Luke Primacy

The basis for Luke Primacy

Luke Primacy

Introduction to Luke Primacy

Other gospels are revisions, expansions, and embellishments of the more primitive tradition exhibited in Luke. Accordingly, Luke is the most trustworthy Gospel and foundational authority for bearing witness to the life and ministry of the historical Jesus. 

Lukan Priority and the Jerusalem School

Scholars of the Jerusalem School attest that Luke is most faithful to the Hebraic source material grounding all the Synoptic Gospels. The indication is Lukan priority. The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research is a group of “Jewish and Christian scholars collaborating in the land and language of Jesus; bringing historical, linguistic and critical expertise to bear on the synoptic gospels,” that holds to the Jerusalem school hypothesis, which is a theory against Markan priority. They provide many evidences to suggest that Luke’s version is the most accurate and that Matthew has been too often unduly influenced by Mark, even when he is correcting Mark with his parallel texts. The surprising result of this research “that of all the Synoptists Luke should prove to be the best in the preservation of earlier texts… the fact that Luke preserves a Greek text which normally retranslates easily to Hebrew and almost always fails to give even a hint of an expression which could be interpreted as the remnant of a Markan non-Hebraism should have led me to suspect that Luke is uninfluenced by Mark and derives his usually excellent translation-text directly from a proto-source.”

Statistical Validation of Lukan Priority

The order of the Synoptic Gospels is Luke->Mark->Matthew as indicated by a detailed statistical analysis documented in a four-article series by Halvor Ronning of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. The detailed analysis that includes a review of Triple Tradition, Double Tradition, Single Tradition, Semitic Influence Analysis, and a review of the Non-Linear Hypothesis is summarized in Statistical Validation of Lukan Priority. The extensive analysis indicates Lukan Priority as the best possible of all possible scenarios. Findings that are indications of the Luke→Mark→Matthew model are as follows:

  1. The elegance with which Lukan Priority explains the verbal identity relationships between the Synoptic Gospels, including its promotion of the minor agreements from a problem to a key part of the solution because of seeing Mark in the middle position (Part 1)
  2. The ability of Lukan Priority to give a consistent picture of each writer’s relationship to his parallel texts (Part 2)
  3. The ability of Lukan Priority to account for the level of Semitic influence in the various parts of each Gospel (Part 3)
  4. Neither Markan Priority nor Matthean Priority can explain the publicly observable facts and verifiable statistics, as well as Lindsey’s hypothesis of Lukan Priority (Part 4)

Validation of Special Luke: Semitisms

A primitive Semitic source functioned as a primary source for Luke, into which other sources were integrated or to which they were supplemented according to Luke’s overall purpose. Luke did not try to expunge and blend his sources, and particularly, his Semitic source. This is indicated by stylistic differences in Luke and the distinctly Semitic Greek of Special Luke. Luke endeavored to produce a full and final narrative while leaving vestiges of the sources that comprise it. See Validation of Special Luke: Semitisms.

The Hebrew Gospel and Luke

The Hebrew Gospel, cited by church fathers, is the fountainhead of the Gospel tradition. Luke, not Matthew, embodies this primitive Gospel tradition. See The Hebrew Gospel and Luke.

The Concept of Proto-Luke

Proto-Luke is the concept that the Luke we have today was heavily based on an earlier source more similar to Luke than the other Gospels. In the article, The Concept of Proto-Luke, Streeter’s pioneering scholarship is discussed, supporting the hypothesis that Lukan material was derived from a single document, Proto-Luke, that he used as a framework. In the article, Streeter further suggests the author of Proto-Luke was no other than Luke the companion of Paul, who authored canonical Luke and Acts. We further evaluate how the Proto-Luke Concept can be harmonized with the Jerusalem School Hypothesis. 

Paul Attests to Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke is the only Gospel that Paul referred to as Scripture. There are a number of places in which Paul makes reference to the material that is exclusively in Gospel of Luke. He actually references material in Luke which is not found in other Gospels and refers to Luke as “Scripture”. Moreover, Paul relies on the testimony of Luke-Acts for reiterating what are the essentials of the faith – in the same context, twice referring to it as “Scripture.” Paul gives the account of the Lord’s Supper in a way that is consistent with Luke, but not with Mark/Matthew. In other places, Paul draws parallels with content that Luke contains not exhibited in the other Gospels.  None of the Gospels match Paul’s teaching on the Law as similar to Luke. Moreover, are numerous undesigned coincidences with Paul’s remarks in his epistles that attest to the validity of Acts. Accordingly, Paul is the first and chief witness attesting to the primacy of Luke-Acts. Of all the Gospels, he has the most affinity with Luke.

The Prologues of Luke and Acts

In the first four verses of his Gospel, Luke 1:1-4 is laying down the express motivation of maintaining the highest level of accuracy. He is warranting that the Gospel is a serious literary and historical volume. He is suggesting that his Gospel should provide a higher level of accuracy and reliability than the rest. The motive is to engage the reader, not with fable, mythology, or fiction. Rather is to give an orderly account of real people, real events, and real places. He wants the reader to know he compiled his Gospel with the highest standard of integrity by providing a facts-based historical narrative evidenced by many points of reference that can withstand the scrutiny that others can’t.


Historical Reliability of Luke-Acts

The author of Luke-Acts is the first Christian historian and critical scholar who exhibited a high level of integrity and competency in his two-volume work. The author, having followed everything for some time past, endeavored to set the record straight so that believers would have an orderly account and have certainty concerning the things taught by Jesus and his apostles. Luke-Acts can be demonstrated to have the highest level of historical reliability and accuracy as compared to the other Gospels. Based on this and other considerations, Luke-Acts should be our primary reference with respect to the core essentials of the Gospel message.

The author is the only New Testament writer that also wrote the book of the Acts of the Apostles: the historical account of the spread of the early church and what the Apostles preached. The author claims to have traveled with the apostles (Acts 16:11-15). This is a difficult claim to make if it could be disproved at the time. The use of language in Luke is more advanced, indicating that the author had a technical/medical background. Luke claims to have investigated everything closely from the beginning. And the level of detail he provides substantiates having more specific historical information than Mathew and Mark. Luke is the only Synoptic gospel that is structured like a historical narrative, in which everything is in chronological order. Luke-Acts is also the most detailed of the three with respect to historical references. Its reliability can be strongly defended against criticism.

The Historical Reliability of Luke-Acts page provides articles, videos, and Scholarly book references in support of the reliability of Luke-Acts.  

Answering Luke-Acts Objections

The page Answering Luke-Acts Objections addresses critical scholarship aimed at Luke and Acts and provides responses to specific objections raised by critical scholars. 

Refutation of The Farrer Hypothesis

According to this theory, Luke was written after both Mark and Matthew and the author wrote with Matthew as a reference. The implication is that Luke made corrections over Matthew and Mark in many respects. Mark Goodacres’ paper on editorial fatigue in support of the Farrer Hypothesis is refuted in the article Refutation of the Farrer Hypothesis

Other Considerations for Luke-Acts Primacy

Luke-Acts Primacy is consistent with focusing on the core gospel message (the fundamentals) and establishing what should be emphasized as essential doctrine. Luke-Acts and Paul’s early writings are not as susceptible to critical scholarship in casting doubts about historical accuracy and authorship, but also are sufficient for conveying the essentials for one becoming a believer. We believe this methodology is the most viable approach for defending the Christian faith, defining what is essential doctrine, and for evangelism to atheists and other non-believers in this information age. 

Luke-Acts-Paul primacy represents a balance between traditional and non-traditional forms of Christianity. This core foundation of the apostolic tradition is clearly exhibited within the traditional canon, while also being minimally speculative. Luke-Acts stands on its own as being sufficient to convey the core fundamentals of the Christian faith, providing a reliable account that gives continuity between the ministry and preaching of Christ and the ministry and preaching of the Apostles. It is the only part of the New Testament that can be taken apart from everything else as providing such a holistic overview of the essential testimony of Christ and his Apostles. For more indications, see Other Considerations for Luke-Acts Primacy.

Issues with Mark

Mark is not a chronological historical account that is intended to be historiography the way Luke isIn light of the observations of the Jerusalem School, Mark is clearly the “Re-Write Man”. Mark resulted in a modified, amplified text and an inauthentic dramatization of the Gospel story. Mark’s principal method was to replace about half of Luke’s earlier and more authentic wording with a variety of synonyms and expressions he culled from certain Old and New Testament books. Mark loved to find linguistic parallels to the text he was copying in other, often unrelated, books, and then mix words and phrases taken from these parallels with others of his sources. (Robert L. Lindsey, “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution,” Jerusalem Perspective (2013)

Mark the “Re-Write Man”

In the Article, Mark the “Re-write Man” Editorial Changes in Mark are outlined as previously documented in an article by David Bivin of Jerusalem Perspective on Mark’s Editorial Style. Mark was not interested in transmitting his sources as he had received them. Instead, Mark’s editorial style is characterized by creativity. Lindsey noted a number of characteristics in how Mark treated his sources. 

  1. Relocation of parts from the Lukan order to a new context.
  2. Rewriting parts by substituting synonyms for the words Mark found in his source(s).
  3. Rewriting parts using vocabulary Mark had picked up from various later sources. These “Markan pick-ups” allowed Mark to show how the stories about Jesus resonated in the experiences of the later Church.
  4. Radical abbreviation in some places
  5. Expansion of parts by adding detail and duplicating phrases
Summarized are the various Grammar, Vocabulary, and Literary Techniques that can be identified by analyzing Lukan-Matthean minor agreements against Mark and by comparing Markan usage to the style of Luke (Mark’s main source).

Mark Borrows From Luke-Acts

In the article Mark Borrows from Luke-Acts, the editorial methodology of Mark is evidenced by examining the first chapter and instances of borrowing from other contexts of Luke-Acts throughout Mark. The Midrashic method that the author of Mark employed is one of homologizing and blending terminology from various sources in the composition of the work. Mark’s principal method was to replace about half of Luke’s earlier and more authentic wording with a variety of synonyms and expressions he culled from certain Old and Net Testaments. 

The author of Mark rewrote various Lukan pericopae using vocabulary Mark had picked up from the sections of Luke that Mark had omitted, from Acts, from the Pauline Epistles and from the Epistle of James. These “Markan pick-ups” allowed Mark to show how the stories about Jesus resonated in the experiences of the later Church.  Mark further exhibits a pattern of replacement, chiastic change, synonymity and word expansion.

List of Markan Stereotypes and Pick-ups

Mark’s version of the Gospel story is dramatic, exaggerated, creative and exciting, just like the creative interpretations of Scripture found in aggadic midrash and the targumim. Mark resembles a modern graphic novel, as it has features that are similar to comic book stories. Like a comic book, the Gospel of Mark uses bold lines and vivid colors that attract a reader’s attention. A Markan stereotype pertains to these unique alternative words and phrases incorporated in Mark that exhibit a pattern of use.

For example, Mark’s strange use of “immediately” εὐθύς (evthūs) is perhaps the most famous Markan Stereotype. It occurs 41 times in Mark, and reminds one of changes of scene in a comic book from one frame to the next. εὐθύς (evthūs) only occurs once in Luke 6:49, but was likely the inspiration for the prolific use in Mark. In typical Markan style, the single instance of εὐθύς in Luke (Luke 6:49) is not paralleled in Mark.

List of Markan Stereotypes and Pick-ups describes the most common Markan pickup and also links to a more extensive catalog of redactional words and phrases characteristic of the editorial style of Mark. Contributors to Jerusalem Perspective noted, “The purpose of the catalog is to collect in one place all the examples that might qualify as Markan pick-ups so that the cumulative effect of the phenomenon can be measured… While it may be easy to dismiss any one example as random, inconclusive, or explicable on other grounds, the cumulative evidence becomes more impressive.”

Embellishments of Mark

There are numerous embellishments in Mark. Mark exhibits the expansionist characteristics of a Jewish midrashic or targumistic storyteller. Due to this ‘targumic’ activity, the stories Mark told are almost always (literally 80% of the time) longer than the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew. Mark is the longest Gospel, not the shortest in terms of the actual stories he decided to incorporate. Mark is the shortest only in terms of overall length, but that is only because of the stories and sayings he chose to omit. Mark’s expansionist style fits his character as a sophisticated targumic storyteller.

Embellishments of Mark listed include material unique to Mark or material in which Mark amplifies or adds sensational accounts to the text which is not substantiated by the primitive tradition of Luke. 

Mark’s Rewriting of Jesus’ Last Week

Examples of rewriting in Mark’s account of the episodes of Jesus’ last week reveal numerous instances where Mark restructured his story based on various motives. These are highlighted in the article Mark’s Rewriting of Jesus’ Last Week which The demonstrates that that Luke preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence.

Deficiencies of Mark

Deficiencies of Mark documents how Mark was not very popular in the early centuries as compared to the other Gospels. It was copied less frequently than Matthew and Luke, and there are few Greek manuscripts that attest to the original text. Versions of Mark also have different endings.  Scholars use early Latin texts of Mark to get a better indication of the original reading of Mark. During copying and transmission, many variants were added to Mark harmonizing it with Matthew. 

The various endings of Mark

The manuscript tradition has three different endings of Mark, with a couple of additional minor variations. The earliest preserved manuscript tradition is missing an ending, which suggests that Mark was never finished by the original author, the original ending was lost, or that the original ending was deliberately removed. There is notable evidence to suggest the lost ending to Mark was incorporated into John 21, an appendix that was added later to John. For more on this, see Various Endings of Mark

Luke over Mark Passages

Luke Over Mark Passages documents instances where Luke provides a more accurate and original reading than what Mark does.

Authorship and Dating of Mark

Authorship and Dating of Mark, summarizes the findings regarding the origins of Mark. Mark is a rewritten Gospel account based on other written sources, including Luke. It’s likely dating is in the 70s a.d.

Issues with Matthew

Considering the many issues, Matthew should not be considered a reliable witness of Apostolic Christianity

Matthean Revision to Mark

The Gospel of Matthew was written after the Gospel of Mark was written. Matthew is clearly dependent on Mark for much of its content (95% of the Gospel of Mark is found within Matthew and 53% of the text is verbatim (word-for-word) from Mark). Matthew carries over some defective changes made in Mark. The Gospel is attributed to Matthew because of the presumption that some of the unique source material may have come from Matthew (a disciple of Jesus who was previously a tax collector) although most of the source material is from the Gospel of Mark as many see it is an embellishment upon Mark. What is clear is that Matthew is the combination of source materials rather than that of a single disciple or source.


Matthean Revision to Mark documents how there are Markan Defects exhibited in Matthew. In addition to Lukan priority, the Jerusalem School has demonstrated that Matthew is a derivative work of Mark.

Evidence for Matthean Posteriority

This article presents evidence for the author of Matthew having used Luke in the composition of the Gospel of Matthew. The view of Matthew being the last of the three Synoptic gospels and having a dependency on Luke is known as Matthean Posteriority. Posteriority is the state of being later or subsequent. In addition to the Jerusalem School, this view has been advocated by numerous bible scholars over the last few hundred years. Other NT scholars have recognized the merits of Matthean Posteriority. See More: Evidence for Matthean Posteriority

Survey of Matthean Posteriority Scholarship

There is extensive scholarship since the 18th century attesting to and highlighting key arguments for Matthean Posteriority. See More: Survey of Matthean Posteriority Scholarship

Matthean Inconsistencies with Luke

Matthean Inconsistencies with Luke documents places where Luke makes a correction or clarification to Matthew.

Matthew is a Judaizing Document

Matthew has Judaizing features that are missing from the other gospels. Matthew makes the highest standard of the law imperative, whereas, in Luke, the law is presented as a description of the ideal. According to the Jesus of Matthew, life is entered by keeping the commandments, and perfection is emphasized corresponding to an extreme standard of righteousness. The conclusion and climax of the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, often quoted by Judaizers of Matt 5:17-20, shows especially strong evidence of redactional intrusion. See more: Matthew is a Judaizing Document.

The Sermon on the Mount : The Matthean Jesus Is Not the Historical Jesus

The Matthean Jesus is not the historical Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, in the First Gospel, is not a speech made by Jesus, but the literary work of the Evangelist who wrote Matthew. Matthew ethicizes and historizes the traditional material in light of a new situation. Regarding the emphasis of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, these verses are largely Matthean compositions.  See more: The Sermon on the Mount : The Matthean Jesus Is Not the Historical Jesus

The Many Embellishments of Matthew

The Many Embellishments of Matthew are also documented, corresponding to historical claims and significant statements that are not attested anywhere else in the New Testament.

Prophecy Conflations and Misquotes of Matthew

Matthew has a number of conflations and misquotes of prophecy documented in Prophecy Conflations and Misquotes.

Matthean Revisionism: Women, Non-Jews, and Wealth

The Gospel of Matthew represents positions on women, non-Jews and wealth that reflect a later period than the more primitive gospels of Luke and Mark. This is documented in Matthean Revisionism : Women, Non-Jews, and Wealth

The Origin, Authorship, and Community of Matthew

The Origin, Authorship, and Community of Matthew addresses characteristics of the author and the community through which Matthew originated

Devised Literary Structure of Matthew

The literary structure is summarized in Devised Literary Structure of Matthew.

Matthew is a Liturgical Document

Evidence that Mathew was composed for liturgical use is provided in Matthew is a Liturgical Document.

Matthew 28:19

Evidence is provided against the traditional wording of Matthew 28:19 regarding the baptismal formula, indicating it is not the words of Jesus and may not even be original to Matthew. 

Critical Scholarship of Matthew

Critical Scholarship of Matthew provides key references of critical scholarship with extensive book excerpts. 

Issues with John

John has a problem. Actually, John has a number of problems. The articles below explore the internal and external evidence of the many issues pertaining to the Fourth Gospel which as been traditionally attributed to John (either the Apostle or an Elder). First of all, John cannot be regarded as having the same level of reliability as the Synoptic Gospels. The first article, John vs the Synoptics, provides a detailed overview the contrast of the Fourth Gospel with respect to the Synoptic Gospels.

“Few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics… John’s gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and the teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics… We shall certainly want to call upon John’s gospel as a source, but mostly as a secondary source to supplement or corroborate the testimony of the Synoptic tradition.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Paperback Edition, 2019, Page 165-167)


In identifying issues of John with respect to the Synoptic Gospels many points of contrast can be observed. These include the very different picture of Jesus ministry and the striking difference in Jesus style of speaking. In the Synoptics, Jesus’ principal theme is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself. However in John, the discourses are centered around proclamations that Jesus makes about himself. For example the striking “I am” self-assertions’ are only found in John and there is no reason why these statements would be omitted from the other Gospels if these were indeed uttered by Jesus. As James Dunn has attested,  The only obvious conclusion is that the ‘I am’ sayings cannot be traced back as such to Jesus himself. As the scholar C. H. Dodd has attested..


“We may now say with confidence that for strictly historical material, with the minimum of subjective interpretation we must not go to the Fourth Gospel… it is to the Synoptic Gospels that we must go if we which to recover the oldest and purest tradition of the facts. These Gospels coincide, overlap, diverge, confirm and contradict one another in a way that is at first simply perplexing. But out of these curious interrelations of the three it has been possible to deduce a gradually increasing mass of probable conclusions about the earlier sources upon which they rest.” (C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible, Second Harper Tourchbook Edition, 1962 p. 215)


Turning to Jesus’ discourses, we see an extreme contrast between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel. 

 The reader of the Synoptics will agree with Justin Martyr’s verdict when, speaking of ‘the very doctrine delivered by Christ himself,’ he says: ‘Short and pithy are his discourses; no sophist was he ‘ (Apol. 1:14). The Johannine discourses impress one as discursive and dialectical, a limited number of great themes being repeated again and again on the most varied occasions. Yet, while this distinction is broadly true, our Gospel is not lacking in just such concise and axiomatic sayings as characterize Jesus’ speech in the Synoptics.  No doubt to the casual reader they are almost lost in the Evangelist’s elaboration of them, but a more careful study reveals them dotted here and there like gems in a cunningly wrought setting. In the Synoptics the most characteristic and fascinating of Jesus’ discourses are the parables. But the Fourth Gospel does not contain a single true parable, the only passages which approach the parabolic form being rather ‘allegories’ or figurative discourses. (G. H. C. Macgregor, The Gospel Of John, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1928,  p. xvi – xvii)


A carful review of John will also reveal that the various characters including, Jesus, the narrator, and others are  stylistically identical in speech. Moreover, the contrast with the Synoptics is really just one of many issues with John. The Fourth Gospel has numerous others issues associated with embellishments, contradictions, authorship, dating, philosophical subordinate aims, and dislocations. These are outlined in the following articles…


Progressive Embellishment of John

In the article, Progressive Embellishment of John, 8 parallel cases are examined which show progressive embellishment through the Gospel tradition in the order of Luke→Mark→Matthew→John, the least reliable.

John vs. the Synoptics

The article, John vs the Synoptics, provides an overview of issues with the Fourth Gospel in contrast with the Synoptic Gospels

Embellishments of John

Embellishments of John covers 12 aspects of John that are clearly embellishments as compared to the Synoptic Gospels. In these areas the Synoptics don’t go nearly as far in describing the ministry and words of Christ and the witness of others. These include:


  1. Seven (7) titles given in the second half of Chapter 1
  2. Seven (7) “I am” Statements of John
  3. Proclamations that Jesus is Messiah and that he will be crucified and raised
  4. After the feeding of 5000, who did the crowds think Jesus was?
  5. Cleansing of the Temple
  6. Raising of Lazarus
  7. The anointing of Jesus by a woman
  8. The betrayal and arrest of Jesus
  9. Jesus before Pilate
  10. Jesus back before Pilate
  11. The crucifixion of Jesus
  12. The burial of Jesus

Contradictions of John

30+ contradictions of the Fourth Gospel are detailed in Contradictions of John. While a creative explanation might resolve a handful of these, there are clearly a significant number of contradictions in the Fourth Gospel. 

Origen’s Commentary on John

Origen’s Commentary on John shows clearly that Origen, one of the most prominent Christian theologians and church Father’s of the 3rd century,  regarded the Fourth Gospel as more symbolic than historic. With respect to the discourse in John, Origen said, “We shall not hesitate to find Gospel in such discourse also as is not narrative but hortatory and intended to strengthen belief in the mission of Jesus” (Origen, Commentary on John, Book 1, Ch 5). In the article, many excerpts are provided from Origen’s Commentary on John. Some of his chapter headings include such statements as follows:


Devised Literary Structure of John

 Devised Literary Structure of John, reveals how John is carefully designed and provides an overview of the structure of the Fourth Gospel. In John, each story has been coordinated with the other parts of the narrative. The Gospel is shot through with intertextual connections and contains a riddling character as it is meant to tease the intelligence and entice its readers. The pervasive theme of misunderstanding is addressed in detail in which Jesus speaks in a provocative and ambiguous manner and is repeatedly misunderstood by his enemies or followers. The widespread use of irony and symbolism is also summarized as well as the narrator and point of view  with respect to how the Gospel narrative is crafted. A detailed overview of the structure of the Fourth Gospel is given in reference to Tim Macke’s (the Founder of Bible Project) presentation of John, who likens the Fourth Gospel to the Matrix movie being a masterfully engineered work. Structural evidences of the Fourth Gospel being a devised literary work are also summarized. 

Misunderstanding of John

The article Misunderstanding of John examines how the Forth Gospel is the cause of endless confusion and speculation throughout the centuries. It is on account of the ambiguity intrinsic throughout the Fourth Gospel, and it’s highly cryptic design, that John is the cause for so many errors regarding theological speculations. The article demonstrates how easy to fall for errors and to misuse the Gospel of John when taking single verses out of context and addresses the methodology of identifying clarifications that are provided in the fuller dialogue before and after the particular verse or phrase being quoted. The misunderstanding of various statements in John serves as the primary grounding for such errors as Trinitarianism, Modalism (Oneness doctrine), and Arianism. Although taking an overly literal approach is something the author did not indent the reader to do, particular theological camps doing so, use John to defend misguided assertions about the preexistence, divinity and a literal oneness of essence/identity of Jesus with the One God and Father.

John and Philosophy

Critical Scholarship on the Fourth Gospel in relation to contemporary philosophy at the time John was written including Alexandrian Philosophy and Gnosticism is summarized in the article John and Philosophy. The Fourth Gospel can be understood properly only as the Evangelist’s attempt to interpret the Christian faith to the Church of his own day — a largely Gentile Church, probably early in the first decade of the second century. By the time it was completed, the Apostolic Age had passed or was passing away, the bonds with Judaism had been definitely broken, and a Church now largely Gentile had become the custodian of a religion which, severed from its historical origins, was unfolding itself into a far wider significance.  John alters the perspective of the earlier Gospels, and looking at Jesus’ life across the intervening years reads into words and incidents the point of view of this later period.

Numerous subordinate aims are summarized. There can be little doubt that certain polemical aims can be traced in the Gospel. The controversial tone of Jesus’ discourses as reported by John is intelligible only if they are related to the contemporary situation of the Church in John’s own day, and treated as the Evangelist’s attempt to repel attacks, to which Christianity was subject, in the early years of the second century. Influences and parallels with respect to various philosophical schools and ideas are also summarized. 

Dislocations of John

In several places, internal evidence raises a strong suspicion that sections of the gospel (John) are not in the right order. A growing weight of opinion finds the explanation in a theory of displacement of leaves. Some attribute this to an accident which could be further manuscript after the writers death, and the carelessness of the editor who regrouped the scattered leaves. Others, with greater probability, think that the writer left his manuscript imperfectly arranged, and the reference in which he was held by his disciple prevented any change in the manuscripts as it had been left, beyond a few words here and there. The discovery that, in several of the passages where rearrangement is required on internal grounds, the displaced sections are, as regards length, multiples of a fixed unit.

Literary unity of the Fourth Gospel has been challenged upon the ground that a careful reading of the text reveals numerous seams and sutures. The force of this argument has been greatly reduced by the general recognition that several considerable displacements have taken place in the text.  When the gospel is read through, in spite of the general impression of unity, certain indications of disunity and dislocation are found. Theories of textual displacement as well as commonly identified redactions are also summarized in the article Dislocations of John

James Moffett’s translation of the New Testament attempted to arrange the sections of John in the correct order. An overview of Moffett’s work as well of his translation and arrangement of John is included in the article. 

Authorship of John

In the article Authorship of John, Critical Scholarship on the authorship of the Fourth Gospel is provided. The external evidence includes the lateness of the evidence for the full recognition of the gospel, the date of the gospel, authorship in tradition, and John, the Elder of Ephesus. Other considerations include internal evidence such as literary structure, reference within the Gospel to the ‘beloved disciple,’ the relation of the Appendix to the question of authorship. The composition of the Gospel gives hints about the process by which it has come about. 

In accordance with what can be observed by its composition, it is clear that at least three persons have played their part in reducing the Fourth Gospel to its present form.  The first being responsible for some of the source material: the figure of the Witness, the ‘ Disciple whom Jesus loved. The Witness must remain shrouded in his self-chosen anonymity. The second person being the Evangelist himself who is the author in the true sense of the word, who has stamped upon the book the marks of his genius and welded it into an organic whole. The third person/group is a later redactor who is responsible for many interpolations as well as the added chapter 21 (known as the Appendix). The Redactor evidently felt free to rearrange the order of the sections, and also, it may be, to interpolate a certain amount of new material and to emphasize certain polemical topics. 

In modern times the authorship of the fourth Gospel has been the subject of rigorous investigation. The discussion has now been in process for nearly a hundred years and is by no means closed; but the weight of scholarly opinion is settling down to a conviction that the traditional theory must be abandoned. The fourth Gospel, cannot be attributed to the Apostle John, and the real secret of its authorship seems to be irrecoverably lost. Many attempts have been made in recent times to connect it with some particular name; but with our scanty knowledge of the early history of the church, they are hazardous at the best.

Dating of John

The approximate dating of the Fourth Gospel including the rationale for the estimated range of dates is provided in Dating of John. Excerpts from several notable scholars are included who define a early and late limit for when John was written in consideration of both internal and external evidence. The dating range of this established scholarship aiming for a high level of objectivity is from 90-140 A.D. Some propose a tighter likely range being approximately the first two decades of the second century (100-120 A.D.). John was composed last and it’s composition date is significantly later than the Synoptics, being most likely a product of the second century.

Dating of John P52 Error

The discovery and publication in the 1930s of a papyrus fragment known as P52 influenced some scholars to believe that John was written earlier than the mid second century which was the consensus of many scholars at that time. P52 is a small scrap about the size of a credit card and represents the earliest physical evidence that exists for the Gospel of John (containing lines from John 18:31-33). It has since been determined the P52 dating is likely 25-100 years later than initially dated. This puts P52 more likely in the range of 150-225 A.D. / C.E.

Dating of John P52 Error exposes how recent scholarship has an erroneous dependence on an early date of the P52 fragment as the basis for dating the Fourth Gospel. Any recent scholarship since 1935 that bases a dating on John on the presumption that the P52 fragment is dated to the early second century should be discounted. Thus the excellent scholarship of the early 20th century on the dating of John referenced in the previous article, Dating of John stands as the most realistic estimate. More recent scholarship that bases the dating of John on an assumption of an early date of P52 should be considered fallacious. 

As Brent Nogbri, has stated in his paper, “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel” (Harvard Theological Review 98:1, 23–48), critical readers of the New Testament, often use John Rylands Greek Papyrus, known as as P52, in inappropriate ways, and we should stop doing so. Example of misuse of P52 by popular scholars in recent history are included in the article as well as a summary of the updated dating and scholarship on P52.

Issues with the Dating of John before 100 A.D.

Fundamentalists and conservative scholars are motivated to assign as early a date as possible to the Gospel of John. Some even go as far as to affirm a date before 70 A.D. However, there are numerous reasons why objective established scholarship of the early 20th century affirms a date after 100 A.D.  Issues with Dating John Before 100 AD covers those issues with dating John before 100 A.D. as well as additional issues with dating John before 90 A.D., additional issues with dating John before 80 A.D.,  and problems with arguments dating John before 70 A.D. 

Of principal consideration that disqualifies an early dating of John is the lack of awareness and quotation of John in early Christian writings. Up to the middle of the second century there is nothing to prove, or even suggest, that ‘John was recognized as a Gospel. With respect to Justin Martyr,  a church leader who wrote in the mid-second century, there is barely three potential references to John, although there is approximately 170 citations or references to the Synoptic Gospels.

Those who date John before 100 A.D. are biased to presume the the earliest date possible whereas the range of 100-120 A.D. is a less-biased mid-range estimate that doesn’t push the date up to the the very front end of a larger plausible range of 90-140 A.D. Also, the Fourth Gospel being directed to philosophically minded Jews and Greeks of the 2nd Century is further evidence of a date after 100 A.D. 

Contested Status of John

The article Contested Status of John  addresses the contested status of John in the second century. The Fourth Gospel not attested by Paul, who clearly had an affinity with Luke and Acts, nor is it well attested by Justin Martyr or other church fathers before the late second century. Rather than being affirmed, the the Fourth Gospel was contested or not used by various early Christian leaders and groups. Gaius and other “Alogians” where were Orthodox for the most part, accepted the Synoptic Gospels while rejecting the Fourth Gospel. Additionally, the Ebionites and Marcion did not use John although they exhibited a heavy reliance on Luke. Clement of Alexandria who was a predecessor to Origen claimed that John was a “Spiritual Gospel” and Origen later elaborated that John was not to be taken literarily and was more symbolic than historical.  Irenaeus, who acknowledged that others rejected John, is the only second century proto-orthodox “Church Father” that attests to John being a Gospel  of equal standing with the other three Gospels, and this comes only in the last couple of decades of the second century (180-200 A.D.).

Justin Martyr favored Luke over John

Evidence is provided demonstrating that Justin Martyr favored Luke and disfavored John in the article Justin Martyr Favored Luke over John. Many of the quotations of Justin Martyr exhibit him quoting with Luke with special emphasis while there is no trace of a recognition of a Gospel like John. 

Additionally, the evidence before Justin, the relation of Barnabas and John, Marcion, and Papius not being a hearer of John is also summarized. The pseudepigraphal gospel of Barnabas is a precursor to John resembles it in many points. With respect to the so-called imitations of John by Justin, these are likely imitations of Barnabas. It appears that when Justin seems to be alluding to John, he is really alluding to the Old Testament, or Barnabas, or some Christian tradition different from John, and often earlier than John. When Justin teaches what is practically the doctrine of the Fourth Gospel, he supports it, not by what can easily be found in the John, but by what can hardly, with any show of reason, be found in the three Synoptics. As regards Logos-doctrine, his views are alien from John. These three distinct lines of evidence converge to the conclusion that Justin either did not know John, or, as is more probable, knew it, but regarded it with suspicion, partly because it contradicted Luke his favorite Gospel.

Critical Scholarship of John

Key references of Critical Scholarship are provided with quotes, excerpts and internet archive book links (free to view online) in the article Critical Scholarship of John. What is summarized is the general consensus of New Testament scholarship of the early 20th century which was the product a century of Christian critical scholarship focused on John. Much if this scholarship is well summarized in the book Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation by Wilbert Francis Howard, edited by C.K. Barrett, as well as other books featured from other prominent Christian scholars. It is this scholarship that the recent scholar James D.G. Dunn refers to when he says in  “On the whole then, the position is unchanged” on what had “become more axiomatic” for New testament Scholarship with regards to the historical value of the Fourth Gospel:

“In 1847 F. C. Baur produced a powerful case for his conclusion that the Fourth Gospel was never intended to be ‘a strictly historical Gospel’. Given the strength of Baur’s critique, the inevitable conclusion could hardly be avoided: John’s Gospel is determined much more by John’s own theological than by historical concerns. Consequently it cannot be regarded as a good source for the life of Jesus. The conclusion by no means became established straight away. But for those at the forefront of the ‘quest of the historical Jesus’ the die had been cast. The differences between John and the others, which had previously been glossed over, could no longer be ignored. It was no longer possible to treat all four Gospels on the same level. If the first three Gospels were historical, albeit in qualified measure, then such were these differences that John’s Gospel could no longer be regarded as historical. Over the next hundred years the character of John’s Gospel as a theological, rather than a historical document, became more and more axiomatic for NT scholarship.” (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Jesus Remembered, Paperback Edition, 2019, Pages 40-41)

“Few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics….  On the whole then, the position is unchanged: John’s gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and the teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics… We shall certainly want to call upon John’s gospel as a source, but mostly as a secondary source to supplement or corroborate the testimony of the Synoptic tradition.”  (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Jesus Remembered, Paperback Edition, 2019, Page 165, 167)