Gary Greenberg's blog on biblical studies and related matters

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” and the Luke-John Problem

One source criticism problem I explore in The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John concerns the known but surprisingly under-analyzed matter of the numerous synoptic-style parallels between Luke and John that not only agree with each other but which occasionally agree with each other against Mark or contain information missing in Mark. To cite just a few examples out of many:

  • Both show a crowd asking John the Baptist if he is the messiah, a detail missing in Mark.[i]
  • Both show Jesus enabling Peter to catch a large load of fish, a miracle missing from Mark.[ii]
  • Both include only one miracle of the loaves, referring to the same episode, but Mark has two such episodes.[iii]
  • Both have a story about sisters named Mary and Martha interacting with Jesus but Mark has no such story.[iv]
  • Both contain an episode where a synagogue congregation knows Jesus’ father, Joseph, by name but mentions no other family members by name; in Mark’s parallel to Luke’s version, the congregation exhibits no knowledge of Jesus father and names only Jesus’ mother and brothers.[v]
  • Both show that in the course of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem the Pharisees complained about the crowd’s behavior, a detail missing in Mark.
  • Both show Jesus lamenting the blindness of the Jewish authorities after the Triumphal Entry scene, a detail missing in Mark.[vi]
  • Both show Jesus predicting that Peter will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows.[vii] Mark says the cock will crow twice.[viii]
  • Both show Jews asking Jesus if he is the messiah and Jesus giving similar answers. In Luke, Jesus says, “If I tell you, you will not believe.”[ix] In John, Jesus says, “I have told you, and you do not believe.”[x] Mark has no such reply.
  • Both show Pilate making three separate declarations declaring Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing but Mark has no such declarations.[xi]
  • Both show that the first time Jews called out for crucifixion they used the word “crucify” twice but Mark only has the word once.

These agreements at least hint at some sort of connection between Luke and John but we are left with no satisfactory explanation for how they come about or why Luke would depart from Mark’s language and somehow agree with John. One scholar who attempted to address this issue was F. Lamar Cribbs, who wrote a lengthy article on the Luke-John parallels. [xii] His solution, however, has been found wanting. He proposed that Luke was influenced by early Johannine traditions, and possibly knew an earlier draft of John, and attempted in his own gospel to reconcile differences between John and Mark. [xiii]

In The Case for a Proto-Gospel, I argue that the author of Luke is unlikely to have known John, and Luke’s departures from Mark in favor of John were due to Luke’s use of the proposed proto-gospel and his attempts to reconcile differences between Mark and the earlier source.


[i] Luke: 3:15; John 1:19–20.

[ii] Luke 5:1–11; John 21:1–8.

[iii] Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–14.

[iv] Luke 0:38–42; John 12:1–8.x

[v] Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22; John 6:42.

[vi] Luke 19:41; John 12:40.

[vii] Luke 22:44; John 13:38.

[viii] Mark 14:30.

[ix] Luke 22:67.

[x] John 10:25.

[xi] Luke 23:4, 14, 22; John 18:38, 19:4, 6.

[xii] Cribbs, F. Lamart. 1971. “St. Luke and the Johannine Tradition.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 422-450.

[xiii] Cribbs, 450.


Reader Comments

  1. Keith Yoder, like Goodacre, is working on John’s dependence on Luke. https://works.bepress.com/klyoder/

    I rec’d this note from Yoder:

    I took a sideroad from John in 2018 when I worked on Luke’s parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. That work is finally now published in the January 2020 issue of Novum Testamentum https://brill.com/view/journals/nt/62/1/article-p2_2.xml

    I finally came back to John this past year and began working on Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. It became clear that this was going to take more than one paper to accomplish. I felt that I needed to investigate first what John 11-12 really “is” before I could credibly take on “where it came from”. In that vein, I have written a first paper centering on Mary, which I have submitted to the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.

    In the meantime, I have a good bit of work done on my second paper centering on Lazarus and John’s dependence on Mark and Luke. Much inertia has built up in the default scholarly consensus of John’s “independence” since P. Gardner-Smith, such that, even if I think I can show that John used Luke’s Lazarus, unless I also tackle the larger issues raised by Gardner-Smith and all his modern followers (eg, Haenchen, Dauer, Moody-Smith, etc), I will not be listened to. Exhibit A here is Thomas Brodie, who has repeatedly tried to show that John’s practice of creative emulation, though unlike Matthew’s and Luke’s emulations of Mark, is really much more congruent with contemporary Greco Roman literary practice – but Brodie is universally ignored by the NT guild. In my second paper I will be thrashing it out directly with Gardner-Smith, something Brodie should have done but never got around to.

    1. In my book I have some detailed discussions on John’s origins for the Lazarus story and how he made use of various Mark (i.e., Mark’s source) and relationships to Luke and Mark’s use of the story of Jesus and the Rich man and Mark’s healing of a leper.

  2. Fascinating. Thanks! Will have to read your work alongside Goodacre’s when it appears on John’s Knowledge of the Synoptics.
    I will also tell Yoder about your work. You should contact him via message on the free academia.edu site.

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