According to Luke

“Saints week” continues today with the feast of St. Luke, author of the third Gospel and companion of St. Paul.

I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of study Bibles and Bible studies that go to great lengths to explain to us that so and so didn’t actually write the book of the Bible that bears his name, and that the events described in the book didn’t really happen anyway. I want biblical materials that trust God’s inspired Word and our rich Catholic Tradition, not agnostic pseudo-scholarship.

That’s why I find the opening paragraphs of the introduction to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible onĀ The Gospel of Luke such a breath of fresh air:

“Early manuscripts of the third Gospel are titled “According to Luke” (Gk. Kata Loukan). This heading is not part of the original work but was added later as a signpost of apostolic tradition. Indeed, the earliest Christians unanimously ascribed the work to Luke, a Gentile physician and companion of the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24). Several Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus (A.D. 180), Tertullian (A.D. 200), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200), assert Luke’s authorship of the third Gospel, and an anonymous list of NT books, called the Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170), also attaches his name to it. There is thus no reason to doubt Luke’s authorship of this Gospel, since the tradition is virtually uncontested in early Christianity.

“Luke himself is unique among the writers of the NT. First, he is the only Gentile author to compose a NT book–all others were of Israelite descent. Paul hints at his Gentile identity when he numbers “Luke the beloved physician” among his uncircumcised companions (Col. 4:14). Secondly, Luke is the only evangelist to write a sequel. In addition to his Gospel, he wrote the Acts of the Apostles as the second part of a two-volume work. The Book of Acts picks up where Luke’s Gospel narrative ends, showing how the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of Jesus now operates in the living community of Christ’s mystical body, the Church.”

At Catholics United for the Faith, we take very seriously St. Jerome’s words that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Through Emmaus Road Publishing (which takes it name from chapter 24 of St. Luke’s Gospel), we make resources such as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible available for those who hunger for God’s Word. Also on the Gospel of Luke, we offer Professor Tim Gray’s popular study entitled Mission of the Messiah, which has now gone through multiple printings. Check out for more information on our family of biblical and catechetical resources.

8 responses

  1. What are your thoughts regarding the Little Rock Scripture Study program? My parish is beginning a bible study using that program next week…

  2. On the feast of St. Luke, a visiting priest at my church said in his homily that Luke was probably not the author of the third Gospel (and Acts of the Apostles). I e-mailed him a copy of Mr. Suprenant’s blog article which elicited from him the reply below. I am interested in your reaction to his reply. Please be respectful in your comments, mindful that he is a priest. I would also ask that anyone reading this blog remember Father’s own father who is gravely ill. Thank you.

    “The date for writing the gospel was around the year 85. Attributing a writing to a famous or well known figure was common at the times. It should not be considered falsehood. It was the style at the time. None of the gospel was “signed”. The fact that “the tradition was virtually uncontested in early Christianity” only indicates that it was not a problem. There is little or no contestation to the attribution of some of the Apocryphal gospels to other apostles (Peter, Thomas…). That does not make them theirs.

    The important thing is that the gospels are testimonies of the faith of communities that is based on the witnessing of the apostles. They are not journalistic accounts of the 20th century (not that newspapers in the 20th century do not distort reality, too).”

  3. Lynne,

    If I were beginning a Bible study, I’d recommend a program like Catholic Scripture Study (CSS) or Jeff Cavins’ “Great Adventure” studies. In addition, through Emmaus Road Publishing (, we have many excellent studies, including the “Come and See,” “Courageous,” and “Kingdom” series that are more dynamic and substantial than the Little Rock studies.

    Assuming, however, that the parish has already settled on the Little Rock study, I think it can be used with benefit. It gets people to open and share God’s Word, which alone can be life-changing (see Hebrews 4:12).

    While each individual Little Rock text (they have different authors for different books of the Bible) should be evaluated on its own merits, the Little Rock program as a whole is largely an “inductive” study. This means that it asks leading questions and has you look up answers in your Bible, so that through your own reading you discover the answers to the questions. That’s not a bad way to study the Bible. I’d simply recommend that you “arm” yourself with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and possibly a good commentary, such as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible or the Navarre Bible. That way, if questions of interpretation arise, you have rock solid references to which to turn.

  4. Tom,

    Here’s the very next paragraph from the introduction to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on the Gospel of Luke, which incidently bears an imprimatur from Cardinal William Levada, presently the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the position formerly held for many years by Cardinal Ratzinger before his becoming Pope Benedict XVI:

    “Scholars are divided over when the Gospel of Luke was written. Some advocate an early date in the 60s, while others prefer a later date in the 80s. Assuming Lucan authorship [discussed above], the weight of the evidence tilts in favor of the earlier date. This is due, in part, to the close connection between Luke’s Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1). (1) The Book of Acts ends abruptly with Paul under house arrest in Rome around A.D. 62, without any hint as to the outcome of his trial or his subsequent activities. (2) Although Luke often draws our attention in Acts to Christianity’s relationship with imperial Rome, he says nothing about the Roman persecution of Christians in the mid-60s, nor does he mention that Peter and Paul–the leading characters in Acts–were both martyred at this time. (3) Neither the Gospel nor the Book of Acts informs us of the complete destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in A.D. 70. Taken together, Luke’s silence on these important matters is a strong indication that both his Gospel and the Book of Acts were written in the early 60s, before any of these events had taken place.”

    For more internal and external evidence regarding Luke’s authorship of the third Gospel, check out the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    The apocryphal gospels are just that, apocryphal. They typically claim to be authored by an apostle or other leading figure (e.g., James, Thomas) to enhance their possibility of acceptance as divine Revelation. Part of the reason that these were never accepted as canonical, beyond any Gnostic or otherwise questionable content, is the fact that they were written much later and the claim to apostolic authorship was doubtful.

    If you read some of the early sources like St. Irenaeus you’re hard pressed to doubt Luke’s authorship as the one who wrote the “orderly account” (Luke 1:3). When we come down to it, knowing that the text is “inspired” by the Holy Spirit is more important than knowing that it was actually written pen to paper by St. Luke. But many modern scholars have gone out of their way to try to debunk traditional understandings of authorship based on questionable theories and assumptions, and to what purpose? Such theories seem to add little to our body of knowledge, and certainly don’t draw people closer to Christ and His Church.

  5. I would add one qualification to your above answer, Leon. The identity of the Biblical authors is sometimes not so important. The vast majority of the Bible is anonymously penned–we’ll never know for instance who wrote Job or the Deuteronomistic history books for instance. But we do know that it all is verbally inspired because the People of God have received it as such (DV 11). But for interpretation it can make a big difference when the book was written and so the question of human authorship comes into play that way. As an interpreter, I have to pay attention to the word as it has come in history because the Word of God comes clothed in human language–taking in this “incarnational dimension” of scripture is essential to appreciate its literal meaning (DV 12); if a writer uses language and theology that seem proper to one period and one set of historical circumstances I would miss the literal historical meaning big time if I insisted on reading him as belonging to a different period. I’m working on a paper on Psalm 74 now. It would be, for instance, silly if I tried to read it as though David had written it for it doesn’t even predict but presupposes a set of events that didn’t occur until centuries after David. Does that make sense?

    It seems like what you are really objecting to is not critical theories per se but the often hamhanded way in which they are dumped on unsuspecting audiences who have had little training in the Bible at all. I say let them get basic training in the story and then learn that nothing is simple! If I read you correctly in this, I basically agree.

  6. Thanks for your insightful comments, Pete.

    Yes, I am thinking primarily of the rank-and-file Catholic, as 99.99% of all Catholics are NOT called to be Scripture scholars. Yet, we know from St. Jerome that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” so clearly biblical literacy must not be the exclusive domain of the theological elite. In short, lay people have a right to the Bible.

    Rest assured that I am not opposed to the critical methods recommended by Vatican II and recent Popes, which help our understanding of the human and cultural dimensions of the biblical record. But I would say that in the second half of the 20th century the pendulum swung too far in that direction, which filtered its way down to the garbage that has been thrust upon the laity–materials that foster agnosticism instead of faith, apathy instead of zeal, and commitment to trendy theological theories instead of two millennia of Christian tradition and wisdom.

    All this obviously matters greatly. The defects in Scripture scholarship have had adverse effects on evangelization, catechesis, and liturgy. Further, the Catechism (no. 2087) affirms with St. Paul that “ignorance of God” is “the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.”

    That’s why we started Emmaus Road Publishing with Scott Hahn almost a decade ago, to give life-changing, biblical catechesis to today’s Catholics. On this particular topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s book Scripture Matters, which is available at

  7. Right. I think the real issue is not critical scholarship per se but the pastoral issues attendant upon how it is appropriated in preaching, teaching and catechesis. One problem is Biblical scholarship and Biblical preaching do not exist in hermetically sealed worlds; they often intersect at the point of the Sunday homily. Priests are correctly trained to begin with the historical meaning of the text which means at some level apprpriating modern results though everyone now recognizes that a purely historical approach is inadequate for preaching today. People need to know not simply what the Bible meant but what it means today–and how to do that is another whole discussion.

    But beginning with the story itself is very important. That’s why I do like Cavins Great Adventure and Hahn’s stuff. Those are good places to start. But once you try to go deeper than that you’ll find that the historical issues surrounding the text are very difficult on many levels. I have the deep suspicion that much popular aversion to modern scholarship comes from the fact that very few lay people read the Bible at all and even fewer read it carefully enough to see that there are many critical issues that emerge on a close reading of the text particularly in its original language. They want to take it “at face value” and are not able to see critical problems and are thus quick to denounce those who do perceive them as hostile rationalists. I will say that I basically agree with you that the ways in which critical results are presented (almost seemingly to tweak the nose of the pious) is problematic. On the other hand, I don’t think the precritical naivete that pervades the popular level of understanding is a good state of affairs either. There are many causes for this and no easy solutions but I would suggest that not all the problem lies with modern scholarship itself. Lay people need ultimately a higher level of sophistication than they have to see that few things in the Bible are really simple. I think it would be a much healthier state of affairs if we had more amateur scholarship in the Catholic Church (as it exists in the Protestant world). There is no reason in principle why lay people (only once they have been correctly formed in the Bible story and Church teaching!) cannot wrestle more forthrightly with the many historical, theological and textual issues scholars have to deal with. Having that happen is a long way off but it is one of many things to work for!!!!

  8. I’m a rank-and-file Catholic who has had similar experiences to Mr Pernice: priests who spend time in front of the laity calling Scriptural authorship into question. This rather than trumpeting the fact that Church teaching affirms that Scripture is “God breathed” and teaches truth (which is the opposite of fiction):

    Catechism 107 – The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

    It seems peculiar to me that a priest, called to walk in the footsteps of Christ, would spend time in front of the laity tearing down that which the Holy Spirit is trying to build up: faith and trust in the Word of God. I have been a Catholic by label all of my life, but really committed myself to the Catholic faith after seeing evidence in Scripture for the Church teachings with which I struggled the most. What of my journey if a Catholic priest then calls into question authenticity from questionable authorship? If priests raise doubt about authorship, are they not fanning doubt rather than building up faith? And we wonder why Catholics are flocking to Protestant churches who emphasize trust in Scripture and the Saints who transmitted these words of the Holy Spirit. I can personally speak to a life changing perspective (thank you Holy Spirit) after a journey through the Bible. It makes my blood boil when the “shepherds” spend more time planting doubt with us “sheep”, rather than looking at evidence that helps build up belief, faith and trust. Can we, the Church, even answer Pontius Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *