Fun with the Bible: Was the Author of the Gospel of Luke Really a Woman?

Who Really Wrote the Gospels

It is a common scholarly contention that the author of the Gospel of Luke was actually a woman. Now, it is definitely accepted that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the authors of the respectively named gospels. Indeed, there’s no claim of authorship in the gospels, but similar to the Five Books of Moses, people wanted to attribute authorship to credible sources.

Thus, the third gospel was attributed to Luke, “the beloved physician” of Col. 4:14. As scholars and religious people alike agree, the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, hence Luke-Acts, though neither mentions Luke’s name or the “acts of the apostles.” But no matter – I said we were here to talk about Luke’s gender.

Ways that Luke Could be a Woman

So why might Luke be a woman. A few brief reasons that I’m going to mention and then I’ll leave the rest to you to read yourself.

1. There are more female characters in Luke (and when I say this I include Acts because of the similarities) than any other gospel. And it’s disproportionate – not just a couple. (e.g. the extended scenes with Mary and Elizabeth in chapter 1).

2. Luke speaks on multiple occassions of things that only concern women (menstration, pregnancy, etc.) and seems to understand and compare events to the pain and beauty of childbirth.

3. Woman have active and important roles for main events throughout the story, being the first to see Jesus, care for him, talk to him, etc. after key happenings. Women also believe in Jesus more often than men. (e.g. the poor widow in 21:1-4 whose offering is more important than anyone else’s; 24:10 when the women believe in and share the ressurection and the apostles don’t believe at first).

Reasonable Skepticism

If you doubt what I’ve written I understand. My examples are minimal and my case not made particularly well. However, there are many more examples of these things and more reasons that the author of Luke-Acts could have been a woman. The best way to start to see these reasons (aside from scholarly literature) is to read Luke-Acts with this in mind and start to recognize the huge and important role of women and the imagery related to women that exists.

It is possible, of course, that a male author could have a view of women that made them necessary characters in his telling, but his understanding of female experiences would be quite impressive. In either case, just read for yourself and see what you think about the role of women. Even if you disagree, what do you think about the place of women in Luke-Acts? Did you notice anything that you didn’t before?


Remember, Fun with the Bible is not about destroying people’s understanding of the Bible but about enhancing it by questioning our established beliefs and making us rethink how much there is to read about beyond what we’ve been told. Feel free to ask any questions and leave any comments about these and other issues.

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10 Responses

  1. […] Zen of South Park Fun with the Bible: Was the Author of the Gospel of Luke Really a Woman? October 6, 2008Who Really Wrote the Gospels It is a common scholarly contention that the author of […]

  2. Its funny you should write this. I was just thinking the same thing. Not only with the examples you’ve listed, but just the style and phrasing seem female to me. If you’ve read a lot of scifi books, especially ones that women write under male pen names, you get to be able to tell when a woman writes it. This is the feeling I get when reading Luke.

  3. You might want to compare books of the the Odyssey, 10-12, and Acts, 20:7-12, they have some very peculiar similarities …

  4. Hmm – that’s so interesting @Lindsay. I hadn’t considered that comparison before with the Odyssey. Certainly with the book of Acts that would be true as the author of Luke is undoubtedly the author of Acts. The books flow right into one another and are clearly of the same hand. Those verses of chapter 20 are particularly illustrative, no doubt. But the Odyssey? I’d never thought about that. I look forward to checking it out. Any phrasing in particular to watch out for?

    @Justin – I didn’t realize that a lot of female sci fi writers wrote under male pen names. I imagine it’s a perceived credibility thing since men tend to dominate the genre. Any books in particular to check out? Also very interesting that you get that feeling when reading the book of Luke.

  5. I didn’t realize that a lot of female sci fi writers wrote under male pen names. I imagine it’s a perceived credibility thing since men tend to dominate the genre.

    This is all too true. There are at least five female SF authors who used either “ambiguous” names, initials or pseudonyms. The ambiguous authors are Andre Norton and Leigh Brackett, neither of whom I’ve read much. The “initialed” writers are C.L Moore and C.J. Cherryh. The latter I’ve read many of her novels; the SF she writes tends to be either space opera or alien-human interactions. Her Chanur series (start with “The Pride of Chanur”) and the Alliance-Union series (start with any novel in the series) are my favorites. The last author was Alice Sheldon who used the pen-name James Tiptree, Jr. (also, Racoona Sheldon). Her most famous work was a short story, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” That story is very interesting.

    BTW, yes, most of them hid their gender in order to gain acceptance from the male readership. Cherryh (also a pen-name of her real name (Cherry)) is probably the last of the active writers to have used a pen-name for this purpose.

  6. Oh, and there’s somewhat of a religious angle in “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” 😉

  7. What a smile it put on my face to discover that you were such a sci fi buff! I didn’t see that one coming. Not that I’d pigeon-holed your reading habits or anything, but I love that you like the SF. Who’s your favorite author? Favorite book? Type of SF preferred? If I wasn’t already treading water furiously I’d say let’s start an SF Read-A-Long!

  8. I’ve been reading SF since I was a kid. (I remember watching the original Star Trek back in the 60s with my dad.) I very rarely read other genres of fiction, although my non-fiction books cover a much wider range of topics. I’m not sure I can name any single favorite author or book, but I do like quite a few of them, especially those writers from the 50s through the early 80s (off the top of my head and in no particular order, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, William Gibson, CJ Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Larry Niven, Kim Stanley Robinson). I could probably add a couple dozen more writers. 😉

    Type of SF preferred? The more realistic the better. When I was a teenager I liked fantasy as well, but as I’ve gotten older I find I can’t stand fantasy. Tolkien is about the only fantasy I will read today. I like writers who have either created realistic worlds (like Frank Herbert’s Dune or Larry Niven’s Ringworld) or environments (like the operations that go on in CJ Cherry’s trader spaceships and space stations). “Hard” SF, mostly, but also some other genres like the more psychological SF of the “New Wave” SF from the late 60s-early 70s.

  9. The original gospel writer was definitely a woman, and moreover, I believe she was in fact the “beloved disciple” Jesus closest, companion, perhaps wife–check out the end of “John”. There are many clues in this Gospel (of John) as well. I’d love to talk more! Not many people consider this possibility! The clues are quite probably intentionally embedded in the text.

    • Excellent! I’m so glad you agree. I read a lot of scholarship on this sandwiched in between multiple readings of this gospel and I’m totally convinced. I’m not sure that she – the author – could also be the beloved disciple or Jesus’s wife (I believe there was such a disciple, but I don’t think this was her) because she makes similar mistakes in geography that the other synoptic gospels make that no one living in ancient Judea would ever have made. But a woman no doubt!

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