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Resurrection at Nain (II of III)

A Resurrection at Nain

(An Excerpt from Chapter V)

Part II of III

With this understanding, let us proceed to premise (1):

(1)  a. Luke either personally witnessed the event or;

b. Luke personally and exhaustively interviewed all available eyewitnesses and      accurately reported a compilation of their testimony, or;

c. both a. and b. above.

Codex Alexandrinus - End of Luke's Gospel

Codex Alexandrinus - Last Page of Luke's Gospel

We have established Luke and Paul as trustworthy witnesses, but we are pretty certain that neither was present at Nain. So who were Luke’s witnesses for this particular resurrection? Luke, who was sincere, respected as an authority by his peers, and accurate as to factual details, assures us that he interviewed sufficient eyewitnesses to establish his narrative as completely dependable:

1 SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us,

2 Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [official] beginning [of Jesus’ ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God],

3 It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

4 [My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.

-Luke 1:1-4 (Amplified)

Luke represents that he was already aware of other written accounts. His purpose in writing his own account was to provide a more complete history of Jesus and the early believers. Apparently, Luke had become the recipient of information that he felt was lacking in the narratives previous to his own.

But who were Luke’s sources? When would Luke have found the time to have “searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account” concerning the events of the resurrection at Nain? Once again, we must resort to the internal evidence from Luke’s own writings to provide an answer.

Luke claims to have accompanied Paul on Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem in the spring of 57 AD[1].

17When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

-Acts 21:17-18 (NIV)

As previously discussed, James was the brother of Jesus Christ, and “all the elders” would have to include the ten surviving Apostles. Twelve days later Paul was arrested and eventually transferred into the custody of Felix, Procurator of Judea:

25He wrote a letter as follows: 26Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

31So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

-Acts 23:25-35 (NIV)

Paul remained in Roman custody for two years, until Felix was replaced by Festus:

27When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

-Acts 24:27 NIV)

Eventually, Paul, as a Roman citizen appealed to Caesar rather than stand trial in Jerusalem:

9Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

-Acts 25:9-12 (NIV)

So in the late summer or early autumn of 59 AD, after additional hearings and discussions, the wheels of Roman bureaucracy ground far enough to endorse Paul’s extradition to Rome:

1When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

-Acts 27:1-2 (NIV)

Interestingly, Luke’s account dropped the use of the first person during Paul’s two year imprisonment, (from Acts 21:27 – 26:32.) Although Luke devotes four and one-half chapters to the various legal proceedings, it is always in the third person. The most likely conclusion is that Paul’s friends were not allowed to attend the formal hearings and interviews with Roman officials, but that they were allowed to visit Paul and pass information[2].

Luke resumes the use of the first person during the voyage to Rome, commencing with Acts 27:1. It is clear from Luke’s record that he followed each detail of Paul’s imprisonment with interest. Since Luke accompanied Paul to and from Jerusalem, and since he presents a blow by blow analysis of Paul’s legal proceedings, it seems necessary that Luke remained in Caesarea and Jerusalem during Paul’s entire two plus year prison stay. Thus Luke visited Paul when permitted, rendered assistance when able, and acted as go-between for Paul and the Christian leaders present in Jerusalem.

Finally, we have our answer. Luke endured two years of forced inactivity in Judea, awaiting the outcome of an open-ended Roman investigation of his mentor, Paul. During this period Luke would have the opportunity to develop close personal relationships with James, the brother of Christ, as well as any surviving members of Jesus’ family and the elders and Apostles still present in Judea.

Luke was aware of the written gospel accounts which preceded his own:

1 SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us,

-Luke 1:1 (Amplified)

Early church tradition, passed from teacher to disciple, uniformly informs us that the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Mark were each written before Luke’s, (hence their order of presentation in our modern Bible):

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

-Irenaeus, Against Heresies III, i, 1

Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism.  The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.” And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.

-Origen of Alexandria, Commentaries on Matthew, Book I, (as preserved in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, vi.25)

Living in Judea, at the heart of Christendom, it is hard to see how Luke could not have been familiar with these Gospels which Irenaeus and Origen confirm to have been written first. But Luke claims to have compiled a more complete account than Matthew’s or Mark’s:

3 It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

4 [My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.

-Luke 1:3-4 (Amplified)

Mark was as Irenaeus tells us – the longtime companion of Peter. Much as Luke, Mark first appears in the book of Acts[3], after Jesus’ earthly ministry was accomplished. Neither Mark nor Luke claim to have been present during the resurrection at Nain.

Matthew on the other hand, was one of Jesus’ early disciples, and one of the twelve Apostles:

13When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

-Luke 6:13-16 (NIV)

According to Luke, Matthew was named Apostle before the resurrection at Nain. It is very likely that Matthew was in the very group of disciples that Luke claims to have been present at Nain:

11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.

-Luke 7:11 (NIV)

Yet Matthew did not record the resurrection at Nain in his own Gospel account. So why did Luke not just send the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark to Theophilus? Luke who knew of Gospel accounts (Luke 1:1), and considered them accurate (Luke 1:2), still thought it necessary or desirable to compile his own account based upon independent research.

If Luke’s heart was pure, and he was seeking the truth at any cost, as he indicates in Luke 1:4, then we are left with only one viable conclusion. During the two years in which Luke supported Paul’s cause in prison, he developed a close association with the church leadership in Jerusalem. During these years he heard tale after tale not recorded in the existing Gospel accounts. These events, including an incredible resurrection at the gates of Nain, Luke felt a need to chronicle for posterity.

So while the Roman Procurator waited to receive his bribe[4], Luke gathered information, compiled and cross-checked notes, and during the two year wait wrote the Gospel according to Luke. And Luke could only in good conscience claim to have enhanced the account of Matthew, an actual eyewitness, if Luke’s account was based upon the testimony of additional eyewitnesses. Thus, certain episodes that Matthew did not include for whatever reasons, such as Nain, were considered by Luke to be imperative for immortalization.

Luke claimed to have exhaustively interviewed all witnesses and researched all accounts. We have demonstrated that he had ongoing access to the witnesses during a two year period of forced inactivity. We can demonstrate Luke’s motive and we know that his final account was considered authoritative and acceptable by his very sources.

In this way, Luke has satisfied (1) b. as well as is humanly possible:

(1) b. Luke personally and exhaustively interviewed all available eyewitnesses and      accurately reported a compilation of their testimony.

We don’t know exactly which disciples witnessed Nain. It seems most likely that all twelve Apostles were there at the very least. But Luke appears to have had access to more than sufficient numbers of eyewitnesses to substantiate the resurrection that took place there. Matthew, assuming he was present, saw no reason to include this particular event. But neither did he question or contradict Luke’s account. Such a response from one of the Twelve would have irreparably compromised the reputation of Luke’s Gospel among Christians.

So our argument really reduces to the question of whether Luke’s witnesses were telling the truth, or premise (2): (to be continued)

NOTICES:

1.) Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.

2.) Scripture Quotations taken from the Amplified Bible (for Luke 1:1-4)

3.) Irenaeus, Against Heresies:

Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson prior to 1885, (the publication date of the volumes in which it appeared, The Ante Nicene Fathers)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S.

WikiSource: Irenaeus, Against Heresies

CCEL: Irenaeus, Against Heresies

4.) Origen of Alexandria, Commentaries on Matthew, Book I, (as preserved in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, vi.25)

Translated by John Patrick, D.D. prior to 1885, (the publication date of the volumes in which it appeared, The Ante Nicene Fathers)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S.

CCEL: Origen, Commentaries on Matthew

WikiSource: Origen, Commentaries on Matthew


[1] Sir W.M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Fifteenth Edition, 2001, Kregel Publications, Chapter 13, Sections 7-8

[2] Acts 23:16-17; 24:23

[3] Acts 12:12

[4] Acts 24:24-26

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