Luke Timothy Johnson

Does anyone know if Luke Timothy Johnson is orthodox in his Catholic teachings and interpretations? There are a number of his lectures on Audible on the Bible. But I do not want to get them if he is likely to be non-orthodox.

Can anyone help?


He seems to be pretty well-respected. I’ve read portions of some of his work. If it helps any, he wrote a book that was highly critical of the “Jesus Seminar” approach to the historicity of the Gospels, so that probably places him somewhere within the realm of what’s worth listening to. I’d recommend what I’ve read of him.


I would be a little leary. An article of his critiquing JPII’s Theology of the Body in Commonweal magazine is not in line with Church teaching. You can read it here:

I found the following response to Johnson’s critique to be very good. I

If you are sincere about wanting only orthodox sources, please do not waste your time on Mr. Johnson. I decided to do a little more googling and came up with another of his articles:
As an example, he says: I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. …

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2357 … Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.** Under no circumstances can they be approved.**


**2359 **Homosexual persons are called to chastity. …I won’t even go into all the other misleading statements in that article. The above is enough to show that he is not orthodox.

You might enjoy this article about Mr. Johnson.

It depends upon why you want to read him. As a New Testament scholar, he’s actually fairly good–he was heavily critical of the Jesus Seminar, and wrote an excellent book in response. If you want to read about the Church’s teaching on homosexual marriage, then I don’t suggest you read Johnson. It’s sort of like with Richard Dawkins–I cannot trust or respect his writings on religion, but if I wanted to read about his own field of evolutionary biology, I’d probably turn to him, as he’s well noted for that. Not to be 100% on the mark in terms of what you believe or even publicly express does not invalidate everything you’d have to say about any subject.


As a Scripture scholar, he is actually quite conservative; very critical of the Jesus Seminar, and is one of the few major Scripture scholars (Catholic or Protestant) who will argue that St. Paul (and not one of his disciples) actually wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

On issues of morality, there are significant issues, as others have indicated.

I think that it is important for scholars (of all kinds) to remember that expertise in one area does not mean equal expertise in all areas.

And scholarly expertise in one area or another does not necessarily imply magisterial fidelity in any or all areas.


Short answer: he’s academically on the ‘conservative’ side but doctrinally, he’s quite ‘liberal’ in that he advocates for certain things like the ordination of women. So if you’re doctrinally conservative you would want to pass on his statements about Catholic doctrine.

Just to place his rough location on the radar, what counts for ‘liberal’ in academic historical Jesus studies these days would be the likes of E.P. ‘Ed’ Sanders, Marcus Borg, Maurice Casey, the late Geza Vermes, and arguably Bart Ehrman. ‘Conservative’ folk would be people like Johnson, the Rev. N.T. ‘Tom’ Wright, Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, or William Lane Craig. People ‘in the middle’ would probably be those like the late Fr. Raymond Brown. (I don’t know where to place Fr. John P. Meier - is he also in the middle?)

Personally, I think guys like the Jesus Seminar and certain scholars who belong to it (note that I grouped Borg differently*) like the late Robert Funk or John Dominic Crossan or Robert J. Miller are more on the ‘radical’ edge of liberal. Popular writers like Reza Aslan or Hugh J. Schonfield (The Passover Plot) or Hyam Maccoby I would place slightly further than that, nearer the fringe.

(I know some or most of these names might not be familiar to you, but you can research all these people if you like.)

  • AFAIK the Jesus Seminar was really more like a vehicle for Funk’s and to some extent, Crossan’s ideas. Not everyone who was a fellow in the Seminar had the same academic opinions as Funk and Crossan did. (Heck, even Crossan has his own differences with Funk!) Marcus Borg is a prime example of this: he has a slightly different picture of Jesus compared to the wandering wisdom teacher espoused by Funk, Crossan, and the Seminar. There’s also another fellow, Robert M. Price, who goes even beyond Funk or Crossan in that he doubts the existence of Jesus as an historical figure - while they take Jesus’ actual existence for granted, as admittedly most scholars in the field do. You don’t hear much of them though because they lost to the majority vote. :wink:

I am currently reading The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. It cost about $1 because it is so old (1996) but it is a good response to Historical-critical domination.

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