Of the 4 gospels, Luke gives the most
detailed account of the Nativity and mentions Mary 12 times, more than any
other biblical writer. In addition to the birth of Christ, he also gives
special, detailed attention to the birth of John the Baptist and many see his
gynecological interests to be a result of his training as a physician.
At the beginning of his gospel, Luke,
whom Paul calls “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14, indicates that he
has made a thorough investigation of the things about which he is writing,
including the virgin birth. This investigation included his utilization of
eyewitness accounts of the events described. He writes,
Many have undertaken to draw up an
account of the things that were 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, that you may know the certainty of the things you have
been taught (Luke 1:1-2).
Luke spent extended periods of time with
Paul in Jerusalem and Judea and would have had opportunity to interview those
closest to the events described, including Mary herself. There is no reliable
information on how long Mary lived, but some traditions say she lived as much
as 24 years or longer after the resurrection.
The detail Luke presents about the
virgin birth does indicate that he has derived his information from a primary
source, either Mary herself or someone to whom Mary had relayed the intimate
details of the event.
Luke Gains a Reputation for Accuracy
At one time, it was thought that Luke
was mistaken concerning the events he portrayed surrounding the birth of Christ
(Luke 2:1-5). Critics argued that there was no census and that everyone did not
have to return to their ancestral home. They also pointed out that Josephus had
dated the governorship of Quirinius of Syria, whom Luke mentions, as beginning
in A.D. 6, too late for the birth of Christ.
In every case, however, modern
archaeological discoveries have proven the critics to be wrong. In the case of
Quirinius, it was found that he actually served two separate terms as governor,
the first beginning around 7 B.C., which fits perfectly with the time of
Christ's birth. The accuracy of Luke as a historian was confirmed by the famous
historian, A.N. Sherwin-White, who carefully examined his references in
Luke/Acts to 32 countries, 54 cities, and nine islands, finding not a single
mistake (Hyatt, Christmas Is For Real, 9).
The late F. F. Bruce, one of the most
respected of New Testament scholars, noted that where Luke has been suspected
of inaccuracy by modern critics, archaeology has again and again proved Luke to
be right and the critics wrong (Hyatt, Christmas Is For Real, 8).
Sir William Ramsay is Convinced
The archaeological affirmation of Luke
as a world-class historian, accurate in the minutest details, began with Sir
William Ramsay (1851-1939), a world-renowned archaeologist and Oxford professor.
Ramsay, an agnostic, set out to scientifically disprove the Bible, but his
archaeological investigations carried him to a completely different conclusion.
Ramsay was a product of the skeptical,
German higher criticism of the 19th century. He believed the New Testament to be an unreliable
religious treatise written in the 2nd century by writers far removed
from the events described. Ramsay decided he would demonstrate his thesis by retracing
Luke’s account of Paul’s travels in Acts and doing archaeological excavations
along the way.
Since, in his thinking, Acts was not
written by the traditional author, but by a later writer who assumed his name, Ramsay
was confident that he would discover many inaccuracies and falsehoods in the
However, after years of retracing Luke’s
account of Paul's travels and doing careful archaeological excavations along
the way, Ramsay completely reversed his view of the Bible and first-century
history. He became convinced that Acts was written in the first century by the
traditional author, and he acquired a very high regard for Luke as a historian.
Luke is a historian of the first rank;
not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true
historic sense; in short, this author should be placed along with the greatest
of historians (Hyatt, Christmas Is For Real, 10-11).
In 1896, Ramsay began publishing his
discoveries in a book entitled St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen.
The book caused a furor of dismay among the skeptics of the world, for its
affirmation of the biblical record was totally unexpected. The evidence was, in
fact, so overwhelming that many atheists gave up their atheism and embraced
Over the next 20 years, Ramsay published
other volumes showing how he discovered Luke to be accurate in the tiniest
details of his account. In his book, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the
Trustworthiness of the New Testament, he wrote,
You may press the words of Luke in a
degree beyond any other historian's and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the
hardest treatment (Hyatt, Christmas Is For Real, 11).
Ramsay himself seems to have embraced
the Christian faith, for he wrote, “I set out to look for truth on the
borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it here [in the
Book of Acts].
Archaeology has, indeed, affirmed the
Biblical historical record. William F. Albright (1891-1971), the renowned
archaeologist and late professor of Semitic languages at John Hopkins University,
also began his career as a skeptic. But after years of archaeological
investigations in the land of the Bible, he wrote,
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by
important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain
phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited.
Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details
and has brought recognition to the Bible as a source of history (Hyatt,
Christmas Is For Real, 11-12).
Our Faith Has a Solid Historical Base
evidence begs the question that if Luke was this careful to get his facts right
about names, places, events, and dates, can we not be confident that he was
just as careful to get his facts right concerning the more important things about
which he reported, such as the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?
some skeptics insisted that the virgin birth was a hoax, the noted Greek
scholar, Professor John A. Scott, reminded them of Luke's training as a
physician and his reputation as a historian. Pointing to his attention to
detail and accurate reporting, Scott declared, "You could not fool Doctor
such overwhelming evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, it raises the
question as to why there remains so much skepticism and unbelief about this
event and other miracles recorded in the Bible. This
question was answered by Yale archaeologist and professor, Dr. Millard Burrows,
who said, "The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not
from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous
predisposition against the supernatural."
In other words, the barrier to faith is
not an intellectual one, but a heart that is committed to unbelief. Any honest
seeker who will lay aside their biased presuppositions and consider the
historical evidence will also experience the affirming witness of the Holy
Spirit in their heart and will know that Jesus Christ was truly born of a
virgin. And if that part of the story is true, then we can have confidence that
the rest of the story is true as well.
is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt’s book, Christmas Is For Real, available
from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com.
Dr. Hyatt is also the author of 1726: The Year that Defined America,
which documents how the 18th century Great Awakening had a direct
bearing on the founding of America and the abolition of slavery.