theophilusSo many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.  Gospel of Luke 1:1-4 (MSG)

Day 1 Prayer

Father, clear my mind and my heart, and open it to receive the Word. I may have doubted. I may have questioned. I may have even believed falsely. Forgive me. Grant me understanding of the Word. Lead me to the Truth.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s Get Started …

Before we can begin to study the Life of Christ, we each have to decide whether to accept the reality of the existence of Christ. Some of you reading this may be skeptics. Others may not believe at all. That’s why Luke 1:1-4 is the beginning of our study.

As Luke states, the Apostles and disciples were careful to research and review their own work as well one another’s so that others would know the information was credible and reliable. They knew the Good News they’d been commissioned to tell was important.

Luke 1:1-4 is very much like the sworn oath that a modern day attorney would attach to the written testimony of a witness.  In verses 1-4, Luke is stating that he researched the writings and accounts of others who had either spoken to eye witnesses that had served Christ (literally “the Word” – see John 1:1-3 or Day 2 of this study) or to individuals that wrote accounts and were those eye witnesses, and it is those accounts that he is compiling for Theophilus (friends of God or beloved of God – ummm – that’s us; we’re the beloved of God).

Yeah, yeah, yeah … just because he says that doesn’t mean it’s true.  Does it?  Well, here’s a little historical perspective on the validity of his sworn oath.  Follow along:

  • 1-99 A.D. all the original Greek manuscripts that make up the 27 books of the New Testament were completed.
  • 325 A.D.  Emperor Constantine calls the Council of Nicea
  • 367 A.D.  Athanasius (Bishop of Alexandria) officially identifies the 27 books of the New Testament (which are today recognized as the canon of scripture) in his 39th Festal Letter.

The most important info in the bullet list above is that first one (in bold).  We know that all the original Greek manuscripts that make up those 27 books in the New Testament we read today were completed in that time period (think scientific study, carbon dating, etc.).  That means that the people interviewed, if you will, and even those writing it lived within the period of time that the living Christ walked this earth. That’s important.

If science can prove the texts came from the right time period, it becomes far more likely that the individual accounts are from people who would have the opportunity to know Christ personally (the difference between a real eye witness and your friend’s cousin’s mailman’s neighbor’s godson’s pal from the bowling alley two towns over)  The scriptures are not likely to be just documentation of “oral traditions”. And that is a big step in separating fact from fiction.

Still, it can be difficult 2,000 years later to accept that.  After all, we’re living in an age when there is more “fake news” than fact-based information, and where differences of opinion, interpretation and even perspective create civil unrest, riots, propaganda/info wars and worse.

It was even more challenging 1,500 or more years ago to ferret out the facts and the truth than it is today (no Google, no Wikipedia, no … you get it), which leads us to the importance of the second and third bullets above.

Emperor Constantine (second bullet) had that same problem, and called together all the bishops in the world – 318 of them – to come to his lake house in Nicea, Turkey in June of 325 A.D. That event was called “The Council of Nicea”.  The result of that gathering was a statement of compromise we now call the Nicene Creed.

 “When Constantine became the first Christian leader of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, his vast territory was populated by a hodgepodge of beliefs and religions.

Within his own young religion, there was also dissent, with one major question threatening to cleave the popular cult — as it was at the time — into warring factions: Was Jesus divine, and how?

It’s hard to imagine riots in the streets, pamphlet wars and vicious rhetoric spawned by such a question, but that was the nature of things in A.D. 325, when Constantine was forced to take action to quell the controversy.

That summer, 318 bishops from across the empire were invited to the Turkish town of Nicea, where Constantine had a vacation house, in an attempt to find common ground on what historians now refer to as the Arian Controversy. It was the first ever worldwide gathering of the Church.

The Christianity we know today is a result of what those men agreed upon over that sticky month, including the timing of the religion’s most important holiday, Easter, which celebrates Jesus rising from the dead.”

From “How the Council of Nicea Changed the World” by Heather Whipps, March 2008, LiveScience

council-of-nicea

The Nicene Creed formed the basis for Christian ideology, established that Christ was, indeed, eternally divine, and set in stone some initial church rules that became the foundation for other rules and laws going forward. The Council also declared an official date for the world-wide church to celebrate Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox) that would prevent it from ever coinciding with Passover again. Last, but certainly not least, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius (third bullet), his assistant at that time, the Council informally agreed that the 27 books we know as the New Testament today were accurate and true.

ikone_athanasius_von_alexandria
Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius would eventually become the Bishop of Alexandria.  At Epiphany in 367 AD, Bishop Athanasius officially identified the 27 books of the New Testament which are today recognized as the canon of scripture in his 39th Festal Letter.

His declaration didn’t come easily or arbitrarily.  It was based on what, by then, was three centuries of study, research, discussion, and deliberation by Christian leaders and theologians throughout the world-wide church. 

In other words, they had been extensively fact-checked before he ever issued his statement, in fact before the Council of Nicea made any of their decisions. Something we might all take a lesson from today!

So what do those old dudes have to do with anything? They, like Luke, spent their adult lives researching, reviewing, verifying the information in those texts. Making sure they were working from authentic information. Then they gathered together, deliberated on what they had each learned (fact-checked), and came to one accord, one agreement based on all that knowledge and understanding.

But we still don’t know for certain. Do we? What we know is that their diligence in determining what was accurate, valid, verified has withstood 2,000 years of continued research, review, and verification.  And survived all the testing. (If you’re still questioning the reliability of the Bible, try listening to the audio at Explore God 6: Is the Bible Reliable?, Corey Widmer, October 16, 2016, Third Church, Henrico VA)

And those are the facts, Jack, or should we say, Theophilus!

Fun Facts & Trivia

 “The beginnings of the AD calendar system can be credited to Dionysius Exiguus. He was a sixth-century Scythian monk who lived in what is now known as Romania.

Ironically, his intent was not to create a new time-system, rather, it was expressly designed to allow all Churches throughout Christendom to celebrate Easter on the same day. Churches celebrating Easter on different days existed for centuries and was considered a major problem during his time.

In Dionysius’ description of a new calendar, he provided a graphic table, much similar to an Excel spreadsheet, with different reference systems to calculate Easter.” Charles A. Sullivan, October 2010, Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System.

dionysus-meme
Dionysius Exiguus, Creator of the AD Calendar System.

“Traditions report that Luke was a companion of Paul, a physician and therefore someone learned in Hellenistic literary and scientific culture. All of those are secondary traditions and most scholars view them as somewhat unreliable. What we lukemosaiccan infer from the evidence of the Book of Acts and the third gospel is that the author was someone who was steeped in scripture, in the Septuagint, and who was aware of Hellenistic literary patterns, historiographical and novelistic. And these kinds of patterns certainly have an impact on his literary products.

Luke wrote two works, the third gospel, an account of the life and teachings of Jesus, and the Book of Acts, which is an account of the growth and expansion of Christianity after the death of Jesus down through close to the end of the ministry of Paul.” Harold W. Attridge, The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, From Jesus to Christ: The Storytellers

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