A majority of scholars believe that the author of Luke’s gospel was relying on a substantial source of pre-existing source material known as “L” that is distinct from Q and Mark. However, “few modern scholars have written on the subject or attempted to outline “L”‘s parameters” (1).
“The existence and nature of the L source tells us much about early Christianity and the Gospel of Luke. First and foremost it serves as another independent source of material that should be used by historians applying the methods of historical research, such as multiple attestation. Second, it serves as confirmation in the early Church’s interest in the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Third, that L is dated so early and was a written source, we have added evidence that the sayings and deeds of Jesus were written down by his followers at an early age. Finally, it reminds us that the early Church, and Jesus, had a great concern for the disadvantaged in their society” (2).
Although commentary and literature on L material, or M material (Matthew’s special material), is not as comprehensive as other New Testament texts scholar Robert van Voorst outlines six primary reasons why scholars accept L (3):
(1) L has analogies to sections for which we have external control in Mark and Q.
(2) Luke refers in his preface to ‘many’ written predecessors.
(3) shared linguistic materials are notable within the proposed source.
(4) the source has unifying themes such as women, the poor, and divine grace.
(5) L has changes in the order of some of its material in comparison with Mark, and agreements with Matthew against Mark.
(6) tensions in Luke point to different layers of tradition beyond the use of Mark and Q.
Scholar Kim Paffenroth says that nine specific thematic groupings have been examined in the L material,
“The L material begins and ends with stories about tax collectors, widows, and lepers. The first half of the L material seems to be concerned with stories of love, hospitality, and finally, watchful. This final group is the most noticeably different from Lukan theology, in that its eschatology is more imminent than Luke’s own. The second half of the L material, while also echoing some of the same themes, includes many specific references to honor and shame in its stories; it also contains several stories about children of Abraham and the finding of the lost.” (4)
Paffenroth dates L to between 40 and 60 AD which makes it earlier than the Gospel of Mark (70 AD), and on par with several of the Pauline epistles. Paffenroth provides four primary reasons for her dating:
“As for the date, L should be dated to before 60 CE, perhaps even earlier than 50 CE because 1) it does not hint to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, 2) it lacks most of the Christological titles more common in later Christian literature, 3) it has a high level of residual orality, and 4) its preservation of a large number of sayings, especially parables, that are most often judged as origination from the historical Jesus” (5).
Regarding its content, L affirms the miracle-working activities of Christ suggesting that his reputation as a miracle healer was believed in the earliest Christian communities.
1. Price, C. The Story of Jesus in Luke’s Unique Material.
2. Price, C. ibid.
3. van Voorst, R. 2000. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. p. 139.
4. Paffenroth, K. 1997. The Story of Jesus According to L. p. 144.
5. Paffenroth, K. 1997. Ibid.
6. Ehrman, B. 2012. Did Jesus Exist?
7. Price, C. 2004. The Miracles of Jesus: A Historical Inquiry. Available.