Many Christian New Testament scholars and apologists claim that Luke is a historian who did his homework on the historical nature of the Gospels. They claim that in accordance with ancient historical standards, he presented an accurate account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection but this notion couldn’t be farther from the truth. A simple examination of Luke compared to legitimate historical accounts shows that Luke was not recording history but reinforcing the Christian faith.

Historical Sourcing Of The Early Church

Christian apologist Braxton Hunter from Trinity Radio recently made this claim about Luke:

Bauckham writes it is natural to suppose that those who were writing the gospels, our canonical gospels, at the time of which Papias speaks would have gone about their tasks similarly as indeed the preface of Luke’s gospel confirms. For the purposes of recording gospel traditions in writing evangelists or the authors of the gospels would have either gone to eyewitnesses or to the most reliable sources who had direct personal links to the eyewitnesses. Collective tradition, as such, would not have been the preferred source.


Braxton Hunter

Eyewitnesses: Did Luke Get Info From Them

01:22 – 01:52

There are many reasons why these statements are wrong but it all boils down to the fact that none of the Gospels or other books in the New Testament intended to record history. This is demonstrated by Paul in his letter to the Galatians; he writes: 

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.


Galatians 1:11-12

The Gospels also establish a disregard for historically accurate sources by repeatedly quoting from scripture, written a few hundred years earlier, as if this proves that some event happened in their time. Mark includes direct citations to scripture but Luke is a little bit more covert. Luke only directly cites scripture twice; once when Jesus was 12 and his family visited the temple and the other when John the Baptist is preaching in the Jordan River. However, there are several instances in Luke where he doesn’t cite the scripture but the wording he uses is word-for-word from it. This establishes that even Luke is dependent on the scriptures for his Gospel writings.

Comparing Luke To A Real Historian

Let’s compare the Gospels’ account of Jesus to an actual historical account of someone’s life: Alexander the Great’s biography written by Arrian. 

First, let’s see how Luke introduces his sources and methodology for his Gospel of Jesus:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.


Luke 1:1-4

Now let’s look at a couple of sections from Arrian’s preface to his biography on Alexander the Great.

I have admitted into my narrative as strictly authentic all the statements relating to Alexander and Philip which Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Aristobulus, son of Aristobulus, agree in making; and from those statements which differ I have selected that which appears to me the more credible and at the same time the more deserving of record.


But in my opinion the narratives of Ptolemy and Aristobulus are more worthy of credit than the rest; Aristobulus, because he served under king Alexander in his expedition, and Ptolemy, not only because he accompanied Alexander in his expedition, but also because he was himself a king afterwards, and falsification of facts would have been more disgraceful to him than to any other man. Moreover, they are both more worthy of credit, because they compiled their histories after Alexander’s death, when neither compulsion was used nor reward offered them to write anything different from what really occurred.


Arrian. The Anabasis of Alexander / or, The History of the Wars and Conquests of Alexander the Great (Kindle Locations 397-401). 

SO let’s compare Arrian’s opening to Luke’s: Arrian directly cites the names of his sources and explains why they would provide the best accounts of Alexander. Luke gives ambiguous references to “eyewitnesses” with no indication of who they were.  In addition, Arrain clearly provides the methodology through which he will reconcile any discrepancies between his sources’ accounts. Luke includes no criteria for what qualifies someone as a source and no information on his methodology for resolving differences between his sources’ accounts. 

Luke’s ambiguity and lack of criteria and/or methodology is not how an ancient historian would have recorded a person or event. Luke only provides one indication regarding his intent or goal for his Gospel writings: “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” So it seems clear, and the Oxford Annotated Bible agrees, that Luke is only concerned with reaffirming the Christian faith to fellow Christians.

These are not the only differences that distinguish Luke from actual historical biographies of the time. Matthew Ferguson lays out an extensive list of reasons why the Gospels, especially Luke, deviate from historical account norms and include:

    • Presence of the author in the work
    • Lack of the author internally analyzing and addressing contradictions in the traditions
    • Education level of the target audience
    • Genre differences
    • Authorial speculation
    • A lesser degree of authorial license (capturing “essence” vice a verbatim account)
    • Interdependence between the Gospels
    • Miracles being central to the story instead of at the fringe
    • Important events and people abruptly disappearing from the story 

These deviations from historical writing norms lead to the conclusion that Luke is writing theology, not history. 

In other words, if Luke let’s say we’re writing about Jesus’ life during a period of time when those people who were involved in the events most important during the life of Jesus were still alive he would have likely checked with those eyewitnesses. This is consistent with what Luke tells us he’s doing. The opening words of the book are since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. It seemed fitting to me as well having investigated everything carefully from the beginning to write for you an orderly sequence most excellent Theophilus know the exact truth about the things you have been taught 


Braxton Hunter

Eyewitnesses: Did Luke Get Info From Them

01:53 – 02:32

And that is the entire methodology and witness list of Luke. As previously demonstrated, this is not how historians who are recording history would cite sources or communicate their methodology. Given all of this, the idea that Luke was writing history is not only wrong but laughable.

Covert Citations in Luke

Now if you’ve ever written a research paper you might think “Well why didn’t Luke give us his sources then? Where are your footnotes, Luke?” Well, Luke’s writing style falls into a genre known as Greco-Roman biography, or at the very least we can say that most scholars agree that Luke’s writing has many similarities with that genre, and within that style, scholars think they’ve found a way that some authors cite their sources. 


Braxton Hunter

Eyewitnesses: Did Luke Get Info From Them

02:32 – 02:53

Nothing about Luke’s writings scream “biography” but even Greco-roman biographies can be completely fictional. The Gospels are more accurately described as hagiographies. A hagiography is described as a “biography” that is primarily concerned with idolizing its subject. In the case of Luke and the Gospels, the subject is Jesus Christ. The Gospels do not provide any critical information about Jesus; they clearly seek to idolize their messiah. Apologists might frame some passages as being critical but justifications, for example, the criterion of embarrassment, are generally constructed by apologists to make the writings seem more convincing to adherents.

Aside from apologists, and since they like to tout their reliance on “scholarship,” most scholars view the Gospels as mythical stories about and not historical biographies of Jesus, according to the Society of Biblical Literature Conference. While I don’t have an issue with going against consensus if the evidence doesn’t seem to support consensus, I do have a problem with apologists claiming a majority of scholars view the Gospels one way when they really don’t. 

Finally, none of the Gospels reveal the sources from which they obtain information at all. Anyone who has studied any kind of historical scholarship would be able to recognize when an author is recording history and when they are reinforcing theology. In the case of the Gospels, claiming sources are cited is simply dishonest.

They do it by using what has come to be known as the inclusio and that is naming characters in a story that you really didn’t need to name for the sake of the story because they were your source. 


Braxton Hunter

Eyewitnesses: Did Luke Get Info From Them

02:55 – 03:04

Unfortunately for Braxton, this is not inclusio. Ancient historians do not use inclusio to identify sources. Asserting that the Gospel writers used inclusio to denote sources is special pleading. Inclusio in the Gospels is used as a literary device to highlight some theological message being communicated, not to identify sources. 

A good example of inclusio in the Gospels is when Jesus rampages through the temple. This event starts with Jesus cursing a fig tree, then having a bitch fit in the temple, and finally revisiting the fig tree. The point of this inclusio section is to emphasize how Jesus was changing the existing Jewish religion: God had already cursed the existing temple tradition so Jesus was basically cleaning shop and reshaping Judaism into Christianity. The theological message Jesus is communicating in this story is inclusio being used as a literary device. 

Another interesting claim is Braxton saying there is no need to name a character in a story unless that person is the source for the story. This seems to indicate to both he and Bauckham, the author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, that the named person is the source of the story. 

Bauckham writes a good example of this is Cleopas in Luke 24:18. The story does not require that he be named and his companion remains anonymous. There seems to be no plausible reason for naming him other than to indicate that he was the source for this tradition.


Braxton Hunter

Eyewitnesses: Did Luke Get Info From Them

03:06 – 03:19


First, the idea that there is no other reason to name Cleopas other than citing a source is purely speculative. There are plenty of reasons an author names a character in a story. One indication that a story is fictional is if the name of a primary character relates directly to the story in some way, for example, Joseph of Arimathea. 

Dennis MacDonald, a scholar in New Testament studies, connected the Gospels to the works of Homer. He believes that the character Joseph of Arimathea was inspired by Priam in the Iliad. In the Iliad, Priam seeks out the body of his son Hector and Joseph of Arimathea does the same for Jesus in the Gospels. The name Joseph is also a call back to the Joseph character in Exodus when he asks Pharaoh to bury Jacob in a tomb just like Arimathea does with Jesus. 

Dr. Richard Carrier further analyzes the character by breaking down the word Arimathea:

Arimathaia is probably an invented word, meaning ‘Best Doctrine Town’ (ari- being a standard Greek prefix for ‘best’, math- being the root of ‘teaching’, ‘doctrine’, and ‘disciple’ [e.g. mathē, mathēsis, mathēma, mathētēs], and -aia being a standard suffix of place). No such town is known to have existed.


Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (p. 573). Sheffield Phoenix Press. Kindle Edition. 

Another fact that leads us to believe that Joseph of Arimathea is fictional is the ad-hoc nature of his appearance in the Gospels. He pops in when he’s needed (after Jesus died) and immediately disappears (after Jesus is buried) when he’s not needed. Aside from this, the character appears nowhere else in the stories. As mentioned earlier, this is an instance of a lack of further explanations of events and people and this is a good indicator that the Gospels are fiction.

Another example of both a character appearing when needed then disappearing who also has a compound word name is one mentioned earlier by Braxton: Cleopas or Kleopas. Dr. Carrier explains:

Kleopas is occasionally claimed to be a contraction of Kleopatros (which means ‘renowned father’), but there is no need of that hypothesis when the apposite meaning is clear: the deliberate combination of kleo (glory, fame, report) and pas (all, everything). There are few precedents for such a name, as a contraction or otherwise. It thus appears to be Luke’s invention.


Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (p. 584). Sheffield Phoenix Press. Kindle Edition. 

So the name Cleopas (Kleopas) serves as a literary device in that after he is introduced, he goes on to report or glorify all or everything. Another note regarding Cleopas: Cleopas is not a common name used in the first century and doesn’t appear anywhere in history aside from this one story in Luke.


Given everything discussed, it is clear that whoever authored Luke’s Gospel was not trying to record history (people or events). Luke’s Gospel forgoes all typical historical citations and methodology. As we saw with Arrian, if Luke were recording history he would have directly cited the sources he used, explained why they were the best sources, and discussed how he would have resolved any contradictions between his sources. Luke never does any of this and he violates several criteria that are indicative of ancient historians. I think we should take Luke at his word when he tells us he is reinforcing Christian theology (Luke 1:4) and we should, in no way, confuse Luke’s Gospel with a historical biography.


Works Cited

  1. “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament (2016).” The Secular Web,
  2. Arrien, and E. J. Chinnock. The Anabasis of Alexander: or, The History of the Wars and Conquests of Alexander the Great. Hodder and Stoughton, 1934.
  3. Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014.
  4. May, Herbert G., and Bruce Manning. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments … Introductions, Comments, Cross References, General Articles, Measures and Weights, Chronological Tables of Rulers, Maps, and Indexes. Oxford University Press, 1973.
  5. “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels (2017).” The Secular Web,