Was the gospel of Luke historically accurate?

Was the gospel of Luke accurately recording events? More specifically, such as in Luke chapter 2, was it possible for the the claim that a census was taken during the time Quirinius was governor and Herod was King to be true, even though it is recorded extra-biblically that Herod died before Quirinius was governor?

These arent easy questions to answer.
Currently we might argue against the accuracy of Luke, however we have a number of examples of othe biblical historical claims where they seem to be inaccurate that were later proven and others where the jury is still out

Pontius Pilot 1 - for centuries it was claimed he never existed!

Kind David - again, it was claimed he never existed

The Hittites - claimed they never existed outside of the bible

The israelites in Egypt and the Exodus - its still claimed that this has absolutely zero historical support because we can find no direct evidence for it (despite it being the cultural history of a current race of people with a worldwide population about 15.7 million people…pretty difficult to say isnt true)

Paul being bitten by a poisonus snake on Malta - there is no evidence that we have yet found of any poisonus snakes having ever existed on that island

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The Greek text calls the island “Melite” (meh-LEE-tay). It just so happens that the most poisonous snakes in the Mediterranean live on an island called Melite.

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Sort of goes to your other post on inerrancy. Luke wrote his book based on collecting information from eye witnesses and other sources (perhaps Mark and Q ) and written 80-110 AD, 50 to maybe up to 80 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, at the time written, those witnesses would be the age of presidential candidates, and we know what that means. In the absence of history books, TV and the internet, I think it possible Luke’s sources got the governors and such wrong, After all, I am pretty fuzzy on what the president did 50 years ago, and would have to look it up to see who the president was at that time. (Nixon, barely)


That is true. Another one would be the pool at Bethsaida if I’m not mistaken.


Wow, I never knew that.

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Yeah, that makes sense. Although, it can be argued that in that culture, things were remembered more often than they were written down, and it would’ve been especially easy to remember (from a psychological standpoint) since it most likely was an “impact event”. Maybe it is not so far off, but who can say for sure?

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Of course, the impact would have been minimal until associated with Jesus many years later.

I remember encountering that in New Testament Greek Reading class. It was practically a unanimous question when one of the guys asked, “What happened to Malta?”


This article quickly became a favorite of mine. Within the context of looking at inerrancy broadly, the writer takes the census question as a case example

For example, let’s consider the classic objection about the census of Quirinius described in Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells us Quirinius was “governor of Syria” when Jesus was born (2:2) and that the census required Joseph to return to his hometown of Bethlehem (vv. 4–5). For years, scholars have noted a twofold problem here.


If you search the threads you’ll see an entire thread on that subject somewhere. It should be under the name of the island.

Malta and Melite are in the same place.

Melite was strategically located up on a plateau on the island.

The problem we have is that there are no highly venomous snakes on the island nor is there any evidence that there were in the ancient past. The “Cat Snake” found on the island currently is not highly venomous and certainly not a danger to humans as a general rule. Obviously if someone had an adverse reaction to its bite…

The point is, this is just one examle of a biblical historical claim that we simply cannot find any supporting evidence currently.

Personally, i believe the Bible account as written despite the modern science telling us its likely false.

One claim is that it was just that the islanders had a superstition that if one was bitten by a snake on the island, they would die (similar to Australian Aboriginals “pointing the bone”)

Anyway, below are just a few references re poisonous snakes on Malta:

And so, as it has been for many centuries, the non-existent viper of Malta remains a herpetological as well as a biblical mystery – indeed, an enigma ShukerNature: ST PAUL AND THE NON-EXISTENT VIPER OF MALTA – A LONGSTANDING HERPETOLOGICAL MYSTERY.

What we can say for certain is that there are no venomous snakes on Malta today
St. Paul and the Malta Snakes | Catholic Answers Q&A

A criminal refugee who landed in Malta by boat, St Paul defines Malta’s Catholic roots and – more importantly – is the man that rid the island of venomous snakes (somehow). However, this may never have actually taken place on the island after a Maltese scholar suggested that it actually took place in a completely different part of the Mediterranean Did St Paul’s Shipwreck Really Happen In Malta? One Maltese Scholar Doesn’t Think So

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also, we should not forget that:

  1. Marks gospel got most of its information from Matthew.
  2. Q is not actually proven to exist…its a theorectical document scholars think must have existed, we do not actually have any copies of it.
  3. Luke associated closely with the apostle Paul. Its highly likely his writings are heavenly influenced by Pauls knowledge given he spent much of his time front and centre throughout Pauls ministry.

The gospel of Luke was written by an anonymous Christian author in a language other than the one Jesus spoke, 30-120 years after Jesus died. Luke could have been written during Paul’s imprisonment or all the way up to the middle of the second century where it is first referenced. A small number of scholars (probably from conservative seminary schools) place Luke before Paul died, most scholars place it from 80-100, a vocal minority place it ca. 110 and an even smaller but very learned minority think Marcion’s gospel predates it (not the other way around).

The author made extensive use of copying the gospel of Mark in writing the work and the dominant position in scholarship is also that the author used a now lost document called Q. Neither Mark nor Q are considered eyewitness sources by most scholars today. Some dispense with Q and think both Mt and Luke used Mark but Lk used Matthew as well. Recently it has come to light that if Q is rejected it might be better to see Matthew as depending on Mark and Luke (not Luke on Matthew!). Literary relationships between the gospels are complex but they exist and the overwhelming majority of scholars now accept Marcan priority and most still accept Q despite recent assaults. So the question “how accurate was Luke” very much ties into “how accurate was Mark” since Luke used a lot of the gospel of Mark in composing his own.

We must understand that Luke was not writing modern history. If you are asking if the account is historical in the sense of it giving an accurate play by play of what Jesus (and the apostles in Acts) did and said and when he did so, the answer is a resounding no. There is probably much information in Luke that is historical and much that isn’t. There is also much in Luke where we simply cannot test its historical authenticity. In many cases accurate stories were retold and reshaped by their communal needs and the theological interest of the evangelist.

Notice that Acts has three separate conversion stories of Paul and they have conflicting details. Luke had no issues including them all in his work. A modern historian would not do this or would point out the variation. On one level we can put the gospels side by side. Both Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives probably cannot both be completely accurate. Both accounts of Judas’s fate (Matthew and Acts not Luke but same author) are probably both not completely true. We can also use a synopsis to look at all the gospel material and compare it to one another. In Mt and Mk Jesus seems to be going to Galilee to appear to his disciples after death but in Acts this all happens in Jerusalem. Luke wants to show the Gospel spreading from Jerusalem to Rome— from the center of Judaism to the center of the world (Rome at the time!). This is theological narration, not historical narration.

When we compare the gospels side by side we do see an initially alarming diversity. That is why things like the Chicago statement have 7 million clarifications for what they think inerrancy means. They have to account for and explain why all the “errors” from our modern perspective aren’t actually “errors” so they can maintain inerrancy.

That is without getting into external issues like the census or the figures in Acts. When a modern person asks is Luke historical, I assume they are not asking if Luke was writing ancient bios that had very different literary conventions and was allowed a lot more flexibility and latitude than we do today. What they are actually asking is if when reading Luke, can they accept what Luke narrates as what actually happened as written. And the answer is probably no, not specifically as Luke narrates it in a lot of cases. In others Luke would be mostly accurate.

Matthew and Luke (via Mark and tradition) both seem to have Jesus in Nazareth but both have him born in Bethlehem and they seem to get him there in different ways. Not only does Luke probably mix up census details, but this may just be a narrative device showing how Jesus of Nazareth (can anything good come from Nazareth?) was the Davidic messiah from Bethlehem. Mark had no issues with a Nazareth birth and life. Even the demons know where Jesus is from in Mark.

Actually, we should forget most of that because little of it is accurate. Matthew used Mark. Extensive agreement in wording, examples of editorial fatigue, a lack of any compelling reason why Mark should truncate Matthew and obfuscate his stories with needless details while omitting so much rich material he clearly agrees with is a difficult editorial composition to support. we really have to sit down with a synopsis and pay attention to the details to understand this.

The early church probably thought Matthew came first because it was the most Jewish and/or because Matthew was associated with an early layer of Q (where there is smoke there is fire). And if you are accepting traditional authorship, why would Mark use Matthew and simply not Peter? But truth be told, Mark does not immediately look anything like the eyewitness reminiscences of Peter.

You say Q is not proven to exist but it is simply a result of the extensive verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke (double tradition) when they have material not also found in Mark (triple tradition). That agreement must be explained and that agreement is very real. Q is currently the best way to do so. Matthew and Luke both used a different source besides Mark. The exact extent and nature of Q can be debated but saying “Q is not proven” is almost meaningless.

Likewise, that “Luke” wrote “Luke” is not proven though possible. If this connection is accepted, it is not clear how much Paul would even know about the historical Jesus since Paul was not an eyewitness follower of the pre-Easter Jesus, there are few details about Jesus’s life in Paul, and he spends most of his time interpreting the the death and resurrection of Jesus. He met with the apostles so we can assume he heard some stuff as they retold it. That this is enough to fill Luke’s gospel is pure conjecture.

This is all misinformation. You really should check your sources and learn to vet information. You are peddling doubt here via logically tenuous thinking (fallacy of composition?) and making up beliefs or at least spreading them.

First the all or nothing mentality. Doctors didn’t wash their hands between procedures a long while ago, therefore we can doubt their claims today? People in all disciplines get things wrong from time to time. Using this to cling to beliefs that defy the evidence is conspiracy theorist thinking. But why not put it the other way around? We have examples of Biblical claims once thought accurate (thoughts in our kidneys, an unmoving earth, a metal firmament in the sky, etc) that we now know are false. Should I just dismiss the whole of the Bible based on this? No. This is just peddling doubt about the Bible in the same way you did about scholarship above.

Different biblical claims—especially by different authors sometimes chronologically separated by hundreds of years and geographically by thousands of miles, need to be examined based on their own merit. I personally don’t support all or nothing thinking.

And of course you are oversimplifying things. Whether or not there was a historical David says little about the biblical details or version of events. There very well could have been a large flood 6-10,000 years ago sparking the two versions found intertwined in our Bible but that in no way means two of each animal actually boarded the ark so the earth could be repopulated. It’s the same with the Exodus. Logistical problems, a lack of archeological evidence and the account looking like polemic against Egyptian God’s call the Biblical version into question. But was there some sort of exodus that sparked this? That is quite plausible.

The same about David. There is next to nothing outside the Bible about David. This is not an issue because who wouldn’t expect anything else. We have an inscription telling us a king named David existed outside the Bible. But inside the Bible we have stories about David from ~500 years later with no external corroboration. I am not sure why you are trying to use David to score points when he is a prime example of the difficulty in reading the Bible through a historical lens. 15 generations is too much time to put stock in historical veracity.

I mean, just because there was a St Nick doesn’t mean all the details about Santa Clause are true. The same with the stories of the flood, David, Exodus, etc. So David existing tells us next to nothing about the veracity of the details in the Bible.

I mean, just because there was a St Nick doesn’t mean all the details about Santa Clause are true.

Finally, I am calling you out on your claim about Pontus Pilate. Pilate is mentioned in all four gospels in an event that no one doubts because Jesus’s followers would not make it up and spend a lot of time apologizing for (Jesus was crucified). Not only all 4 gospels but Philo and Josephus mention him—two Jewish authors from the first century. Philo was contemporaneous with him! Tacitus— a Roman historian early in the 2d century also mentions him. Also Celsius in 2d century and Josephus spend as dose amount of time on him. I doubt any credible historian ever seriously doubted the historicity of Pontus Pilate. If they did it was singular or extremely minor viewpoint. Most historians would have always accepted the historicity of Pilate. Can you provide a single source substantiating you claim?

This is from r/AcademicBiblical:

That link also has information about your Hittites claim.

This Hittite apologetic argument is of no use to anyone trying to understand the Bible and understand history; it’s purely aimed at the naive Christian who has heard rumours about inaccuracies in the Bible and wants vague reassurances that the experts have cleared everything up in the Bible’s favour. Furthermore, it tends to lower itself to ad hominem attacks against “secular” historians who are portrayed as being hostile to religion. This is a serious mischaracterization that does nothing to advance genuine scholarship in history, archaeology, and the Bible.



What’s interesting and telling is how far the scholar will allow this event to be a unique act of God attested to with signs and wonders.

There are a handful of evangelical scholars today (ie. Longman in OT and Keener in NT ) who are quite comfortable swimming in these waters.

Where do they teach? I might inquire as to whether or not the statement they sign on inerrancy requires them to swim in these waters? And I would do so without impugning on their character.

But I understand in the case of the Exodus. God repeatedly takes credit for this in scripture. It’s hard to maintain inspiration or take the Bible seriously without an actual Exodus.

I’ve heard Keener say inerrancy is a faith commitment, and I am almost sure he would agree it isn’t a salvation issue, so we don’t need to exaggerate what he means by having faith in the Bible.

And the little I know about Longman, I would also see it as a sincerely held belief.

Part of it, I see this with Kruger and Duncan, is how inerrancy ties in with covenant theology. And additionally, as Moreland so well said almost 40 years ago, a rational belief in inerrancy does not depend on settling every discrepancy. How we come to that belief, ie.Jesus’ understanding of the OT, can relegate apparent discrepancies.

A minimalist reading of the Exodus, as Longman does in Confronting OT Controversies, is still an option.


I’ll check it out, thanks!

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This is very long, so I wont reply to all of it. I would like to point out however, the gospels do take from one another, but maybe that’s because they are talking about the same story. Naturally details would be shared. Furthermore, I noticed while reading the gospels, that they have many similar accounts, but also each gospel has different accounts of different things not mentioned in other gospels. Maybe I was misreading, but is it possible that a lot of the confusion between the accuracy of Luke is due to it being referencing different events that have similar titles to gospels but are vague descriptions of what happened? I think it could be considering that the gospel of John states that " Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." Maybe Luke refers to very different events at different times because Jesus traveled back to the same places occasionally. Just a thought though.

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I edited this post by mistake instead of replying to another. The gist of what I said was:

The wording and order in the synoptic gospels is so similar most scholars, including very conservative ones, feel direct literary dependence is necessary. In this usually diverse field it is rare to find such a strong consensus. But we have one and most favor Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke followed suit.