The Originality of Luke

by Yuri Kuchinsky

In this article (Dec '03), I bring together some material indicating that Luke cannot be really seen as a late and dependent gospel. In fact, it seems to contain more primitive material than either Mark or Matthew!

Problems with the FH, 3SH, and the 2SH

Greetings, friends,

At this time, over 90% of biblical scholars accept the validity of the 2 Source Hypothesis (2SH). In other words, they believe in both the Markan priority, and the Q Source. Of the remaining less than 10%, the majority are the Griesbachians, aka the 2 Gospels Hypothesis supporters (they believe in the Matthean priority).

In North America, the number of those who accept the Farrer Hypothesis (FH) is perhaps only 1 or 2 percent -- in other words, it's a tiny blip on the screen. (This number is somewhat higher in Britain, because this is where Michael Goulder, and his former student Mark Goodacre, the best known FH supporters today, are based.) As to the 3 Source Hypothesis (3SH), AFAIK it's not even 1%. (There's one guy on the Internet, by the name of Ron Price, who's currently advocating his own peculiar version of the 3SH, and that's about the only modern 3SH supporter that I'm aware of.)

Both the Farrer Hypothesis, and the 3 Source Hypothesis suffer from some of the same basic problems. Here are the three biggest ones.


Both the FH and the 3SH are based on the acceptance of the canonical Markan priority. (And, of course, for the 2SH, this is just as much of a problem.)

But here's a doze of reality. In the shape in which we see it now, Mk is little more than a 19th century reconstruction by Westcott & Hort -- the reconstruction that was based on 4th and 5th century Egyptian Greek manuscripts. This is simply a statement of fact.

Some sort of evidence is required in order to argue that this, at best, 4th century text is really a first century text. So where's this evidence?

At the same time, our canonical Mk does seem to contain many late interpolations -- the material that is not found in either Mt or Lk. These Markan interpolations are also betrayed by their own particular style -- from the points of view of both language and content. For example, the themes that are explored in these seemingly late additions to Mk often have to do with the status of the Gentiles in the Kingdom, and with Jesus performing impressive miracles.

Koester has examined all that in detail, see his ANCIENT CHRISTIAN GOSPELS; Vincent Sapone has a summary of this on his webpage,
Also see this summary by S. Carlson,
We really cannot simply assume that a 19th century reconstruction of a 4th century text is really a first century text, because this would not be scientific. Moreover, some specific late interpolations in these 4th century manuscripts of Mark are readily apparent. And yet, both the FH and 3SH ignore all that.


Both FH and 3SH fail to account for an awful lot of material in Lk that is completely original, i.e. not found in either Mt or Mk. (This particular problem is especially significant for the FH.)

The sheer amount of Luke's Special Material, alone, proves that its authors were using some other source or sources (other than Mt and Mk). What were these sources (or source)? What else did they contain besides what is now known as Luke's Special Material?

When we examine the three Synoptic gospels, and calculate the amount of material in each of them, that is completely independent from the other Synoptics, we find that Lk has more such material that either Mt or Mk.

What we find is that 59% of Luke represents its own Special Material! (While 41% of it is the material that is also found in Mt and/or Mk.)

As for Matthew, only 42% of it represents Special Material (while 58% of it is also shared by other gospels). For Mark, this figure is only 7% (vs. 93%).

Here, for example, is Luke's Special Material for the parables alone.

       Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35)
       Good father (Lk 11:5-8)
       Wealthy farmer (Lk 12:16-20)
       Unfruitful fig tree (Lk 13:6-9)
       Places at table (Lk 14:7-11)
       Tower builder (Lk 14:28-30)
       King contemplating war (Lk 14:31-32)
       Lost coin (Lk 15:8-10)
       Lost son (Lk 15:11-32)
       Dishonest steward (Lk 16:1-7)
       Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31)
       Dutiful servant (Lk 17:7-10)
       Persistent widow (Lk 18:2-5)
       Pharisee and tax collector (Lk 18:10-14)

So where did the authors of Luke get all this stuff? Surely they didn't dream it all up? And isn't it also entirely possible, and even probable, that these same sources of Lk also contained much more than this Special Material, but the rest of the Jesus story, as well, in its more primitive form?

As I say, this particular problem, i.e. accounting for where all this Special Material in Lk comes from, is especially serious for the FH -- because it mostly remains mute about any other sources for Lk. Since the 3SH does accept the Q Source, albeit in an abbreviated form, this also might help to account for some of Lk's original material. In so far as the 2SH goes, again, this one doesn't seem to be as much of a problem, because 2SH does grant considerable originality to Lk -- in so far as it sees Lk to be just as original as Mt.


Both FH and 3SH (as well as the 2SH, to a significant extent) fail to account for much material in Lk that appears to be very early, vis-a-vis the other Synoptics. And there does seem to be an awful lot of such material in there. I will now outline some of this material below.


Here's a detailed study.

[quotes from the above]

Fitzmyer says that E. Klostermann, R. Holst, and J. K. Elliot consider the Lukan version of Anointing as the most primitive. According to this reasoning, then follows Jn, and only then Mk as the most developed version. Fitzmyer more or less agrees with this,

"For my part, it is hardly likely that the Lukan story is a deliberate reworking of the Marcan by Luke or some tradition before him." (Joseph Fitzmyer, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE, Doubleday, 1981, vol. 1, p. 686)


As to the placement of the Anointing into the text of Mk, Brown writes,

"More than likely Mark 14:1-2 was originally joined to 14:10, and the account of the anointing is an interpolation. (Raymond Brown, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, Doubleday, 1966, p. 452)

But this is how Lk narrates this passage, of course.


To summarise, all three scholars [as cited in this study], Loisy, Fitzmyer, and Brown agree that the Markan location of the Anointing is problematic. Thus, the common source of Mk and Lk probably did not have the Anointing placed so late in the ministry of Jesus.

Both Fitzmyer and Brown agree that Lk's version is probably the earliest of the four canonical gospels. And so, Jn's version is based on Lk, and Mk's seems to be based on Jn's.

[end quotes]


The Great Omission in Luke creates some serious problems for those who believe that Luke was a late gospel.

This problem has been studied before by many scholars. Assuming the 2SH, it's very difficult to explain why is Lk missing a very large section of Mark (Mk 6:45-8:26), that is also sometimes known as the "Bethsaida section". Matthew does have this same section, and it parallels Mark very closely here, but Luke is missing all this entirely after Lk 9:17.

Many scholars have argued that this sequence of Luke is the original one, and that all this material in Mk/Mt represents a late addition. Indeed, the themes that are explored in this "Bethsaida section" certainly do give plenty of grounds for such a hypothesis.

Much of this section consists of the passages that focus on the status that the Gentiles will assume in the new Kingdom -- whether or not they will be included in the Kingdom, and on what conditions. And so, this sort of a material is exactly what can be expected to have been added later by pro-Gentile editors, after the movement had already become predominantly Gentile-oriented.

The idea that this whole section was a later addition to both Mk and Mt has been argued by Koester (ANCIENT CHRISTIAN GOSPELS, 1990, pp. 275-286), as well as by other scholars, including Loisy. So this is the most obvious case of both Mk and Mt adding up a lot of stuff that probably wasn't there in the original Jewish-Christian proto-gospel.

Also, another interesting feature of this Bethsaida section is that it includes the Second Feeding of the Multitudes, the one that seems to have been meant specifically for the Gentiles (also taking into consideration some of its numerological details). But both Luke and John have only one Feeding of the Multitudes. So here, we see that John also supports the Lukan originality in this case.


There's substantial evidence that the passion narrative of Lk, starting with Lk 22, preserves a lot of primitive material and sequences better than Mk and Mt. Such as, for example,

-- Lk 22:39-46, the Agony in the Garden, where the disciples fall asleep only once, rather than three times as in Mt/Mk. It is easy enough to see in this case which one is the more primitive version.

-- Also, Luke omits the Nocturnal Session of the Sanhedrin (Mk 14:53-65/Mt 26:57-68), which the historians of this period generally see as completely unhistorical.

And there have been many scholars who have also pointed out various other elements of the Lukan Passion Narrative as the more original, compared to Mk and Mt. All this is widely admitted in various Commentaries.


Those who study the Synoptic Sayings Material (otherwise known as "the Q source") agree overwhelmingly that this material is generally more original in Lk, compared to Mt. And I also agree with them here.

While, myself, I don't really believe that there had ever been any sort of a unified "Q gospel", as such, one doesn't really have to believe in Q in order to recognise that various collections of Jesus' sayings were used by the early Christians, and had been incorporated into various gospels. These collections were probably topical, and associated with the performance of miracles, for example. First, Jesus performs some miracle, and then follow a few sayings and/or parables. Also, it seems like there were some early accounts of the controversies between Jesus and his religious opponents. Some early teaching instructions were probably also associated with the Passion Narrative.

Plenty of studies are available that compare in great detail the sayings materials in Lk and Mt, and come to the conclusion that the Lukan rendering of these sayings is less developed, compared to that of Matthew. Various stylistic elements that are characteristic of Mt, for example, have been known for a long time, and these are constantly found in the Matthean versions of Jesus' sayings -- while not generally in their Lukan versions. And vice versa, the elements of the Lukan redactional style have also been identified by scholars, and they seem to be much less evident in the Lukan versions of Jesus' sayings.

So strong is this evidence that even the FH adherents have had to recognise that sometimes Luke does preserve the earlier versions of various saying! (And in such cases, FH theorists have been forced to resort to speculation about Lk having access to some free-floating "independent oral traditions", in order to explain why Lk should have such early material.)

Also, the Gospel of Thomas is often brought up in these debates. As it happens, Thomas' versions of the sayings of Jesus are often quite short and simple, and thus seemingly more original. And, in such cases, they often are a lot more similar to their Lukan parallels, rather than to their Matthean parallels. Thus, Thomas tends to support the idea that it was Lk that has preserved these sayings in a more primitive form, compared to how they are found in Mt.

Also, in this connection, one can consult the following file on Peter Kirby's website,

and especially the sections "Absence of Matthean Redaction in the Double Tradition", and "The Primitivity of the Double Tradition in Luke".


All these considerations make it quite clear that Luke is certainly not some sort of a late and dependent gospel -- it was certainly not something that could have been written last based only on Mark and Matthew.

In fact, a very strong argument can be made that Lk was definitely not based on our existing canonical Mk, and Koester has already done quite a lot of good work in this area. So these are the sorts of considerations that tend to weaken both the FH and 3SH very considerably.

So, it seems to me that FH and 3SH are indeed very heavily burdened by their unquestioning acceptance of the canonical Markan priority. And, in this regard, they definitely share one of the main weaknesses of the 2SH.

On the other hand, both FH and 3SH do accept that the canonical Lk was aware of Mt -- an entirely realistic supposition, on the whole; indeed there may be quite a few passages in our late 4th century canonical Lk that had been influenced by Mt. (And, by the same token, canonical Matthew's awareness of Luke in some passages is just as likely.) So, in this regard, FH and 3SH appear to be somewhat more realistic than the mainstream 2SH... The main problem that plagues the 2SH, all those massive Anti-Markan Agreements of Mt and Lk, are not really a big threat to either FH or 3SH.

And yet, in comparison to the 2SH, FH and 3SH also seem to have some peculiar problems of their own, since -- because of their tendency to portray Lk as generally "late and dependent" -- they have more difficulties in accounting for all that completely original material that we find in Lk, and nowhere else.

But, finally, it's especially the huge amounts of the material in Lk that is very early -- I mean now the material in the triple tradition that seems to be prior to what we find in either Mk and Mt -- that argues very strongly against the 2SH just as much as it argues both against the FH, and against the 3SH.


Of course, as already mentioned above, I don't really believe that our canonical Lk -- the way we see it now -- is all earlier in comparison to Mt and Mt. Obviously, there's also quite a lot of late material, and many late corruptions in Lk, as well, as we have it now... After all, my own solution to the "Synoptic Problem" is stated simply enough -- NONE OF THESE GOSPELS IS THE EARLIEST!

While, at this time, we actually do have some scholars who are prepared to argue that all of Luke is prior to Mk and Mt, for my own part, I wouldn't go that far...

Some scholars who currently argue for the originality of Luke belong to what is known as "the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research". Among them there are some very competent professional NT scholars and, to be sure, they don't always seem to agree with each other on some important points.

It is my impression that, often, the main interest for many Jerusalem School members seems to be gospel exegesis, rather than the textual studies, as such. In other words, these scholars don't seem to be dealing with the ancient manuscripts, as much as they try to explain the problems with the mainstream Nestle/Aland Greek text. Personally, I find that some Jerusalem School members often seem to show a sort of a particular prior theological commitment of their own -- a bit more than I'm really comfortable with. (Some conservative Christian critics have even accused them of advocating a "heresy" of some sort!)

Now, as I say, mainstream NT scholarship has come today to a pretty stable consensus that the Synoptic Sayings Material is preserved more faithfully in Lk, as compared to Mt. Overall, I'd say that this can be expressed as follows.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that, in the double tradition, Lk preserves the original wording of its early source(s) 60% of the time, while Mt does it only 40% of the time. (Indeed, this seems to be the consensus of the Q scholars today, more or less.)

And, by the same token, I would say that, in the triple tradition, Lk preserves the original wording/sequence of its early source(s) 60% of the time, while Mk and Mt together do it only 40% of the time. So that would be my general opinion on these matters, after studying this area for all those years. But, otherwise, NONE OF THESE GOSPELS IS THE EARLIEST! :)

Best regards,


PS. In the above article, I've outlined only some of the material in Luke that seems to be more original. I'm also aware of much other such material, and perhaps there will also be a Part 2 of this article, eventually.

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