Craig Keener's Case for the Historical Jesus, Part II

In the previous post in this series I presented some quotes from Craig Keener's recent book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, relevant to some general questions about the nature of the Gospels. In this post I include quotes from Keener on Luke-Acts in particular. I will continue to follow the Q&A format.

Why should we think that Luke-Acts is historical and strives to present an accurate account of the beginning of Christianity?

Various factors support the thesis that Luke conceives of his project as primarily a history. Unlike a novel, Luke uses sources abundantly in his first volume (usually agreed to be at least Mark and "Q") and presumably in his second volume as well, although we cannot distinguish the sources clearly in Acts. Luke's claim to investigate or have close acquaintance with his information (Lk 1:3) fits historical works, and his occasional use of the first-person plural (e.g., Acts 16:10) emphasizes the involvement considered ideal for a good Hellenistic historian. (p.86)

What does Luke's preface in (1:1-4) tell us about the genre of the work and about Luke's competence as a historian?

[L]uke-Acts also includes what appears very much like the prefaces found in histories. Granted, they also show some features similar to the scientific treatise tradition, a tradition that not surprisingly overlaps in some of its features with those of history works more narrowly defined (but not novels)...Given Luke's clear statements, especially in view of parallels to such claims in historical works, Luke-Acts would easily enough project a historical genre (especially in view of the following narratives) to a first-century audience. (p.88)

What is the context of Luke's claim of 'thorough knowledge' (Lk 1:3)?

For Greeks the very term used for research or investigation, historia, left "no doubt possible about what was considered the defining characteristic of the genre"; it focused on "the interrogation of witnesses and other informed parties" and then weaving their responses into a cohesive narrative. Even if some writers failed to travel to all the places their narratives covered, travel was apparently a familiar component of historical research...Polybius avers that investigation is the most important part of writing history. His proposed method for conducting investigation, given the limitations of space and time, was to interview people, critically evaluate reports, and accept the most reliable sources...Greek historians often traveled to the locations of events and consulted those considered reliable sources. (p.89; quoting C.W. Fornara)

What are we to make of the 'we' sections of the book of Acts?

Opinions do vary regarding his 'we' sections...Nevertheless, I believe that evidence for his genuine participation in some later events in his second volume, Acts, is very strong. 'We' appears only sporadically, whereas a fictitious 'we' in a novel normally appeared throughout the work. Without comment (as if the audience knows the identity of the narrator), the 'we' appears incidentally in Troas, leaves off in Phillipi (Acts 16: 10-16), and resumes years later, again in Philippi (20: 6-21: 18; 27: 1-28:16). It does not appear at more theologically pregnant points where it would be most useful (say in Acts 2, 10, or 15). As one might expect for eyewitness material, the 'we' sections tend to be among Luke's most detailed material...Most current scholars believe that the proposal of a literary device for sea-voyages misreads the evidence; the proposal of a fictitious literary device more generally is also questionable. Although entire works could be pseudonymous, Luke does not name himself, and his first audience seems (and Theophilus surely is) aware of his identity...More relevant is first-person narration in histories; like third-person narration naming the narrator, this narration nearly always indicated the actual presence of the author on the occasions noted...

What is the relevance of his connection to Luke's 'research' for the gospel story? The 'we' departs for Judea with Paul in 20:5-21:18 and departs from Judea up to two years later (see 24:17) in 27:1-28:16. The narrator probably spent most of the interim in Caesarea, but even this location would have afforded Luke the opportunity to become more 'fully acquainted' with reports about the Judean events (if not geography) that he depicts. (p.91)
(P.S. On the issue of the reliability of Acts, there is no better treatment than Chris Price's Genre, Historicity, Date and Authorship of the Acts of the Apostles)


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