Share on facebook
Share on twitter

Atonement in Luke-Acts Pt. 1


This series initially was intended to be a reply to another Muslim neophyte ( in order to expose his blatant inconsistencies and selective use of sources. However, I have decided to turn this into discussion concerning Luke’s view of Christ’s death. I do plan to eventually get around to addressing the Muslim greenhorn’s “reply” in order to show him what happens when we take his own arguments and scholarly sources and turn them against his god and prophet. Suffice it to say, he will not be too happy with the results.

In this series I intend to refute the claim that Luke-Acts does not have a doctrine of substitutionary atonement, meaning, that the inspired writer of these two canonical works either did not emphasize or rejected the vicarious nature of Christ’s sacrificial death for the express purpose of saving people from their sins.

I first begin by highlighting the historical reliability of Luke-Acts as well as Luke’s personal acquaintance with some of the eyewitnesses of the historical Jesus.

Luke’s reliability and association with the Apostles such as Paul

In Luke’s prologue, the inspired author states that his written account is based on information that he personally received from the very eyewitnesses of the historical Jesus:

“Inasmuch as 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 for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:1-4

Luke further narrates events that he himself was an eyewitness to:

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, WE got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called US to preach the gospel to them. From Troas WE put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day WE went on to Neapolis. From there WE traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And WE stayed there several days. On the Sabbath WE went outside the city gate to the river, where WE expected to find a place of prayer. WE sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited US to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded US.  Once when WE were going to the place of prayer, WE were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of US, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.” Acts 16:6-18

“When 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. WE 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. The next day WE landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there WE put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against US. When WE had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, WE landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put US on board. WE made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow US to hold our course, WE sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. WE moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. … Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that WE should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest… The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so WE gave way to it and were driven along. As WE passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, WE were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. WE took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, WE finally gave up all hope of being saved… On the fourteenth night WE were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that WE would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight… Altogether there were 276 of US on board.” Acts 27:1-8, 12, 15-20, 27-29, 37

“Once safely on shore, WE found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed US unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed US all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed US to his home and showed US generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored US in many ways; and when WE were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. After three months WE put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. WE put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there WE set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day WE reached Puteoli. There WE found some brothers and sisters who invited US to spend a week with them. And so WE came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that WE were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet US. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. When WE got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.” Acts 28:1-16

Not only was Luke a traveling companion of the Apostle, but he also personally met James the Lord’s brother in Jerusalem:

“After WE had torn ourselves away from them, WE put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day WE went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. WE found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, WE sailed on to Syria. WE landed at Tyre, where OUR ship was to unload its cargo. WE sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, WE left and continued on OUR way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied US out of the city, and there on the beach WE knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, WE went aboard the ship, and they returned home. WE continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, WE reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After WE had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to US, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’ When WE heard this, WE and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, WE gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ After this, WE started on OUR way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied US and brought US to the home of Mnason, where WE were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. When WE arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received US warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of US went TO SEE JAMES, and all the elders were present.” Acts 21:1-18

To say that the foregoing is truly remarkable would be to put it quite mildly. Noted Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig brings out the significance of Luke’s having known and interviewed the very disciples of Christ:

“… The gospel writers have a proven tract record of historical reliability. Again let’s look at just one example: Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These are really one work and are separated in our Bibles only because the church grouped the gospels together in the New Testament.

“Luke is the gospel author who writes most self-consciously as a historian… This [Luke’s] preface is written in classical Greek such as the great Greek historians used; after this Luke switches to a more common Greek. But he has put his reader on alert that he can write, if he wants to, like the learned historian. He speaks of his lengthy investigation of the story he’s about to tell and assures us that it’s based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.

“Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not himself an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural… The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. Eventually he accompanies Paul back to Israel and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was, in fact, in firsthand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry in Jerusalem.

“Skeptical critics have done backflips to try to avoid this conclusion. They say that the use of the first-person plural in Acts should not be taken literally; it was just a literary device that was common in ancient sea voyage stories. Never mind that many of the passages in Acts are not about Paul’s sea voyage but take place on land! The more important point is that this theory, when you check it out, turns out to be sheer fantasy. There just was no literary device in the ancient world of sea voyages in the first-person plural–the whole thing has been shown to be a scholarly fiction! There’s no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life while in Jerusalem.” (Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision [Published by David C. Cook, 2010], Personal Interlude: A Philosopher’s Journey of Faith, Part Two, 8. Who Was Jesus?, pp. 191- 193)


“Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with the secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable. This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-tooth comb, pulling out a wealth of historical detail, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details that only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated. From the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right.

“According to Professor Sherwin-White, ‘The confirmation of historicity in Acts is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.’ The judgment of Sir William Ramsey, a world-famous archaeologist, still stands: ‘Luke is a historian of the first rank…. This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.’

“Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability, as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.” (Ibid., pp. 193-194)

This brings me to my next point. The blessed Apostle Paul went out of his way to affirm and emphasize the substitutionary nature of Christ’s sacrificial death as the means by which God reconciles the world to himself. This is a point that Paul stresses all throughout his inspired epistles, aa the following verses prove:

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:8-11

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:3-4

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:13-14

“to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Ephesians 1:6-8

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:25-30

“He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Colossians 1:13-14, 18-23

“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14

Now seeing that Luke clearly was a companion of this blessed Apostle, do these Muslim greenhorns really expect us to believe that Paul’s own protege would deny or outright reject the vicarious nature and atoning significance of Christ’s death?

I will have more to say about Luke’s view of the atoning death of Christ in the next part of my discussion (

Related articles