On the feast of the Ascension we are presented with a fascinating glimpse into the human dimension of revelation in the same moment that we hear about the one who is its divine source and subject—Christ Jesus himself. This glimpse is given to us in the opening verses of the Acts of the Apostles, where we read: “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2).
Saint Luke goes on to tell his friend Theophilus that he followed the example of others before him and carefully researched the life and teachings of Jesus so that Theophilus might stand firm in his new-found Christian faith (see Luke 1:1-4). These first verses of Acts (and of Luke) are rare examples of passages in the Bible where we see the human author of a biblical book consciously reflecting on the process of its composition and acknowledging his own role in it: the prologue of the Book of Sirach and the epilogue of the Book of Qoheleth might be other such instances.
This shows us that in revealing himself through the scriptures, God made use of human authors with all their capacities and limitations to convey what God willed to reveal in language that is eminently human and approachable. That God freely chose to let humans be sharers in the work of revelation is a beautiful gift which ennobles mankind and demonstrates that in God’s eyes we are truly “little less than gods, crowned…with glory and honor” (Ps 8:6). Moses, David, and Isaiah and so many others in the Old Testament as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and others in the New Testament were all given the dignity of being “co-workers” with the Lord in the grand project of God’s self-revelation.
The human authors of scripture were trying to bring others to the faith; Luke says this clearly as he relates to Theophilus the story of Jesus now that the Lord had ascended and was no longer physically present. In the time of the Old Testament Qoheleth, Ben-Sira and others did the same—and this is an evangelical task we can take up in our own day.
To be sure, the authors of the Bible had an advantage in this task: they were inspired in a unique and surpassing way by the Holy Spirit. This is a teaching of our faith which we must hold if we are to remain part of the Church. The Church is quite cautious in not talking about things which our Christian tradition has not addressed with certainty, since, as the Catholic writer Alexander Pope said in his Essay on Criticism, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” For this reason the Church has never defined exactly what it means by “inspiration,” although we do believe that it preserves divine revelation from being marred by errors on the part of its human authors.
We modern-day disciples are also “inspired,” though in a different manner from the authors of scripture, and this presence of the Holy Spirit within us is what enables us to continue and contribute to the work of sharing God’s revelation in our own humble way. What a beautiful thing that is: like Saint Luke and the other human authors of scripture, we can play a role in handing on to the next generation the joy and hope we ourselves have found in God’s divine word.
On the feast of the Ascension when we commemorate the departure of the risen Lord for heavenly glory, we can recall with joy that through the gift of divine revelation we human beings can remain spiritually close to Christ, and can help fulfill his command that the Gospel must be “preached in his name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.