I remember reading Luke 1 and 2 and thinking to myself how silly it is that Luke, or whoever wrote Luke’s Gospel, just so happened to know private thoughts and events in Mary’s life decades after the fact. Luke’s telling of Mary’s song and her personal thoughts surrounding the life of Jesus seemed so contrived, and only reinforced my ever-growing belief at the time that the books of the Bible were just fabrications.
It’s been years since these thoughts crossed my mind, but I was reminded of them as I continued reading Ramsay’s Was Christ born at Bethlehem? : A Study on Credibility of St. Luke, 2nd Edition. Ramsay sheds light on the question with scholarly mastery in depicting Luke’s role as a historian in a way that far outpaces the dogmatic assertions that Luke mystically happened to know Mary’s decades-old thoughts through divine inspiration.
Luke claimed that eyewitnesses had delivered to him the things that he wrote (Luke 1:2), and he desired to compile a narrative of things that he believed had really happened. Luke’s gospel is, therefore, an account composed through thorough investigation rather than mystical revelation. This does not mean Luke was not divinely inspired in his undertaking. But it does give insight to his method and claimed sources of information. This also leaves us with two possibilities. Either Luke was the historian he claimed to be, or he was deceptively posing as one.
With this in mind, we may arrive at a better understanding of how Luke wrote about private events in Mary’s life and still expected people to believe he knew what he was talking about. The simple answer is that Luke claiming to be a historian working off of eyewitness accounts wanted to give his readers the impression that he had gained information about Mary’s life from Mary herself or from somebody intimately close to her. Ramsay writes, “It is not in keeping with the ancient style that he should formally name his authority; but he does not leave it doubtful whose authority he believed himself to have.”
We see Luke’s implication in Luke 2:19 in which he writes, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In Luke 2:51 he again wrote that, “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” By divulging knowledge of Mary’s own thoughts, Luke is suggesting that he went to Mary herself, or at least somebody who knew her intimately enough to know things that she is not recorded to have told anybody else.
There are other possible theories including the idea that Luke just pulled together and edited pre-existing documents (some of which may have claimed to have access to Mary’s thoughts), and that he really never did any true work as a historian. Ramsay goes on to provide answers to these objections, and I encourage the reader to find a copy of Ramsay and read it if they are interested in studying this topic further.
But the purpose of this blog post is simply to offer a reasonable means by which Luke could have known about things that he wouldn’t have known about unless he talked to the people who were there. The theory that Luke was going off of firsthand information is corroborated by his own stated purpose and method in his introduction.
This does not prove that he really was a reliable historian. But that’s the important question which we must now settle. If Luke is proven reliable in regards to his accounts that can be independently verified, then we may reasonably infer that he is equally reliable when he writes of things such as Mary’s private thoughts. If Luke is proven unreliable or spurious elsewhere, then we may cast the entirety of Luke’s work into doubt.
Either way, Luke claims to be a historian. Rather than dogmatically believing or disbelieving the Bible based on pre-existing prejudices, we must evaluate him as such and reasonably follow the evidence.
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