Lukan Priority and the Jerusalem School
Lukan Priority and the Jerusalem School

Lukan Priority and the Jerusalem School

The Jerusalem School and Priority of a Lukan Proto-Narrative

The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research has a 50+ year history and 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.” The consortium states three assumptions, shared by its members: 

  1. The importance of the Hebrew language
  2. The relevance of Jewish culture 
  3. The significance of Semitisms underneath sections of the Synoptic Gospels, that in turn often yield results to the interconnection (or dependence) between the Synoptic Gospels.
Under the heading “Synoptic Gospels” of point 3, they stated on their methodology page the following: 

Tracing the linguistic and cultural data within the Synoptic Gospels leads to insights into their literary relationships. The Synoptic Gospels provide linguistic, literary, social, geographical and cultural clues to their internal structure and development. The evangelists composed their works in Greek, yet Semitic idioms are readily evident in all three. The gospels’ Greek and Semitic linguistic elements and Jewish cultural items must be identified, carefully traced through the three gospels, and then incorporated into a theory of synoptic relationships. These relationships become an important framework for reading the individual gospels. (“Methodology.” Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Retrieved 26 Sep. 2009. Archived 2015-01-18)

Most of their research is now accessible at The Jerusalem School Hypothesis is a theory against Markan priority.  One of the founding members, William Lockton produced a theory of Lukan priority in 1922. Lockton believed that Mark copied from Luke and was in turn used by Matthew, who he believed used material from Luke as well. 

Robert Lisle Lindsey independently and unintentionally discovered a similar solution to the synoptic problem years after in 1963. He is the author of A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark. He argues the existence of a Proto-Mark gospel (‘Ur Markus’), consistent with what we call Proto-Luke, was a highly literal translation from an original Hebrew source into Greek. He calls the original Greek source the Proto-Narrative. He notes that the text of the Gospel of Luke is the most authentic to this Proto-Narrative, especially in the minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark. He says, “It is evident that Mark deviates by paraphrasing from the Proto-Narrative.” While it is easy to show that Luke knows a Proto-Mark (what we call Proto-Luke) and not Mark, Lindsey contends strongly for Lukan priority. (Wikipedia contributors, “Jerusalem school hypothesis”)

When Robert Lindsey began by translating the Gospel of Mark, he found that it contains hundreds of non-Semitisms, such as the often-repeated phrase “and immediately”, which are not present in Lukan parallels. This suggested to Lindsey that there could have been the possibility that Mark was copying Luke and not the other way around. Lindsey hypothesized that Matthew and Luke, and probably Mark, were aware of an “anthology of Jesus’ words and deeds taken from the Greek translation of the Hebrew biography”. Meaning that there must have been a collection of literary pieces (poems, short stories, etc.) of Jesus’ words and teaching which derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew biography document. Lindsey’s theory includes a second source a Greek biography that attempted to reconstruct the story-order of the original Hebrew text and its Greek translation, which only Luke knew of. 

Lindsey established a theory of Lukan priority which argues: “Luke was written first and was used by Mark, who in turn was used by Matthew, who did not know Luke’s Gospel.” Since Robert Lindsey published his famous findings, David Flusser, David Bivin, Halvor Ronning, Richard Stegner, Brad Young, and other scholars have argued strongly for Lukan priority.  

Lindsey and His Discovery of the Priority of Luke

In his book, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Robert Lindsey describes how he came to discover the primacy of Luke over Mark and Matthew. He did this by comparing the texts side by side using a parallel Greek synopsis of the first three Gospels. 

I therefore turned to a story-by-story, word-by-word, study of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke… To my surprise it turned out that Luke’s Gospel contained almost none of the non-Hebraic expressions so common in Mark! On the other hand Matthew, when copying Mark (or if copying Mark), appeared to reject about half the non-Hebraisms of Mark completely, to accept others without question and repeat them in exact Markan contexts, and to reject still others in the earlier chapters of his Gospel only to accept them in later portions. 

Having long supposed that Luke, as the non-Jewish companion of Paul,  tended to modify his text to make it more understandable to Greeks of pagan background, I was even more surprised to note that the Lukan text was almost always easier to translate to idiomatic Hebrew than was Mark. After several more years of study in which this observation has been confirmed again and again, I today find my early supposition amusing, but the point is that I was quite unprepared to suppose that of all the Synoptists Luke should prove to be the best in preservation of earlier texts. 

An even stranger conclusion, if this is possible, began during these early days of research to force its way into my consciousness: where Matthew was parallel to Mark and Luke in any given story or sentence many, but not all, of the Markan translation difficulties reappeared in Matthew in the same or a somewhat modified form. but where Matthew was not parallel to Mark (whether in the stories only Luke and Matthew share or in those given only by Matthew) his text shown the same ease of translation as that of Luke. 

(Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Dugith Publishers, 1973, p.12)

Thus, Lindsey, although skeptical at first, came to the full revelation that Luke is superior and more consistent with original Hebraic source material as compared to Matthew and Mark, saying “Luke is best in the preservation of earlier texts.” Regarding the last statement in the quote above, it describes his surprise with respect to Matthew, that it is inferior to Luke but also shares some parallels with Luke that are better than what is carried over from Mark as a source. This is the principal reason why he and others have speculated that Luke was written before Matthew. However, all that is really established by the observation is that a narrative similar to Luke preceded Matthew. This can be understood as Proto-Luke if not the canonical Luke we know today. 

Lindsey’s Reassessment of the Synoptic Problem

In coming to terms with Luke Primacy, Lindsey further explores the implications.

Without quite realizing it and quite without intending it, I thus found myself questioning whether our Mark could, in fact, be the principal narrative source standing equally behind Matthew and Luke in their so-called Markan portions. It looked as if Luke had universally copied more faithfully whatever Greek sources he had and that these had been translated earlier from a Hebrew source or sources, or at least from some Semitic document or documents so much like Hebrew that in retranslation it was impossible to tell the difference. It also looked as if Matthew had indeed used Mark’s Gospel with all its redactic expressions but had rejected many of these for some reason I could not yet explain… (Ibid pp. 12-13)

According to his statement above, he supports the view that Matthew uses Mark (as it carries redactic expressions within Mark), yet that Matthew used a source consistent with Luke, implying a type of Luke narrative came before Matthew. Again, this is consistent with the view Proto-Luke preceded both Matthew and Mark. 

Minor Agreements 

Minor Agreements are known as consistencies between two of the three Synoptics that one of the Gospels (usually Mark) does not share with the other two. Lindsey realized that he could locate a Minor agreement by reviewing the Greek text and analyzing whether it has a Semitic background by evaluating how translatable it is back into a Hebraic language. What he found was a highly literal Greek translation of a Semitic original he considered coming from a source he called Proto-Narrative. This process led him to believe that Matthew is “dependent on a text like Luke (if not Luke)” and his continued investigation of the phenomenon led him to the following conclusions.  (Ibid, p. 17)

1. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the strong dependence of Luke on a non-Markan text.


2. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the redactic methods of Mark, for they show us exactly what some of the words and phrases are which Mark rejects and we are able to study his re- placement terms and expressions in these cases.

3. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the methods of Matthew when faced with more than one parallel account: it is clear that he combines his texts by alternately choosing phrases, first from one text and then from the next, with the result that he achieves a kind of interwoven effect. We may quite rightly call this Matthaean achievement a Weave Effect, though we must not suppose that Matthew’s text alone can be described in this fashion; Mark’s redactive methods produced a similar effect.


4. The Minor Agreements help us to clarify the nature of the early narrative which apparently lies behind all the Synoptic Gospels. This proto-narrative is certainly best seen in Luke but can be partially seen in Matthew in his Minor Agreements with Luke in Markan contexts and may appear in Matthew’s highly Hebraic texts which are consistently found in non-Markan contexts. This undertext shows some signs of annotation and editing by a Greek writer but apparently preserves within it a highly literal Greek translation of a Hebrew original. (Ibid, pp. 17-18)

Corresponding to point 4 above, Lindsey makes the observation that in the Triple Tradition, that is, where text is common to Matthew Mark and Luke, he observed a “great difference between Matthew and Luke as to the amount of their respective dependence on Mark” affirming again, “the text of Luke turns out to be Semitically better than either Mark or Matthew in the Triple Tradition.” (Ibid, p. 19) 

Markan Cross Factor

In the Triple tradition (Mt-Mk-Lk) Matthew and Luke are rarely identical in wording for more than a few word or phrase units. In the Double Tradition (Lk-Mt) Matthew and Luke “show such a high verbal identity in about two-thirds of the common verses that we have to suppose one author is copying from the other or both are copying with great fidelity from some common document.” (p. 20) Lindsey refers to this observation as the Markan Cross-Factor because the presence of Mark distinguishes the Triple Tradition from the Double Tradition, and affirmed “It is obvious that the Gospel of Mark is somehow responsible for the particular pattern the evidence takes, and the only question is how.” (p. 21)  This is the Proto-Narrative, that shares characteristics with both Mark and Luke. Regarding Luke the Proto-Narrative shares the wording of Luke. Regarding Mark, the Proto-Narrative shares the pericopae order. A pericope is a set of sentences or verses that form one coherent and self-contained unit. Such a unit is normally evident as a paragraph, episode, or story that contributes to the overall composition. According to Lindsey, Matthew and Luke “treat Mark’s pericopae order with respect, but his wording like a rejected wife.” (p. 22) This observation leads to the implication that “some written document parallel to most if not all of our Mark was used along with Mark by Matthew and Luke.” (Ibid, p. 22)

Key Questions

Based on the evidence described above, Lindsey was forced after some time to reconsider the order of the Gospels. He acknowledges at first he was inclined to view things differently. 

My failure even to ask whether the Mk- Lk relationship had been correctly apprehended undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that I was insufficiently aware of any serious contenders to the theory of Markan Priority and was also probably due to my predilection to think of Luke as the Gentile Christian modifier of the earlier Gospel sources, an idea I must have picked up long ago in the usual ways of untested deduction.

For instance, 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. I should also have asked why a writer like Mark, who enjoyed re-writing as much as he did, should not have been deliberately changing the wording not only of his proto-narrative but also of Luke, thus becoming the creator of the strange verbal distance between Matthew and Luke. (Ibid. p 26)

The key change in perspective came from observing that Luke has a highly consistent Hebrew-Greek style, while Matthew seemed “to be weaving together Markan redactic phrases and PN expressions.” (p. 27) Here again, a Lukan Proto-Narrative (PN) is implicated. 


Summary Basis for Proto-Lukan Priority

Luke’s gospel is the most accurate and consistent with the Hebraic source material grounding the Synoptic Gospels. It is superior to both Matthew and Mark which has led some to speculate that it was written before Matthew and Mark. In the forward to the Hebrew translation of the Gospel, David Flusser of Hebrew University, provides the following example. (Note halachah (also spelled Halakhah) refers to Jewish law. Per its literal translation, “the way,” halachah guides the day-to-day life of a Jew.)

If we follow Lindsey’s of the Synoptic situation it is not surprising that we often find 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 by his parallel texts. The story of the Man with the Withered Hand (Mk 3:1-6 and parallels) is a case in point. In the story Jesus’ opponents watch to see if he will heal a man on the Sabbath in a way opposed to the halacha. None of the Synoptists suggest that there was any open criticism of Jesus’ action. There is no discoverable reason why there should have been such a criticism, for this kind of healing (by command) was not in opposition to the halacha. Yet both Mark and Matthew, in almost identical words, state that “the Pharisees” (Mark adds also “the Herodians”) took counsel against Jesus “to destroy him”. Luke significantly says only that Jesus’ opponents “discussed among themselves” what to do “to” Jesus…


The incident in the Gospels must have occurred much as Luke has stated it. Jesus looks at the unfortunate man and in provoking challenge to all present says, “Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or destroy it?” He then tells the man to stretch out his hand and as he does so the hand is healed. There is certainly an implied criticism of Sabbath legalism in Jesus’ words but he has done noting wrong. Luke’s “they discussed what to do to Jesus” may only mean “they discussed what could be done to Jesus.”… Mark, however, takes the phrase to mean that “they counselled with each other” with a view to doing what a later group of high priests would counsel together to do, namely, destroy Jesus. Mark has leapt ahead to a later event and attributed motives of a later time to the detractors of Jesus who.. are unhappy with the seeming imprudence of Jesus. 


(Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Dugith Publishers, 1973, pp.4-5)

Another ward, Luke gets it right where Matthew and Mark don’t. In affirming that both Mark and Matthew are inferior to Luke, Flusser further outlines the lessons to be learned in comparing the Synoptic Accounts. 

The first [lesson] is that any normal philological reasoning would indicate the priority or greater authenticity of Luke’s accounts. Water does not flow uphill. It is simply impossible to believe that the Matthaean-Markan account could be changed secondarily into the Lukan form… The second lesson is that understanding of the language usages of Jesus’ time can quite often throw immediate light on questions of originality in our Gospels. The third is that Matthew is indeed secondary to Mark and Mark to Luke, for only in such an order of dependence can we see how Matthew can accept the secondary oddity of the Markan text. (Ibid, p 5)

In the forward, Flusher provides a couple of additional examples of the primacy of Luke in comparison to Mark and Matthew:

The high originality of Luke and the secondary character of Mark (so often repeated in Matthew) can be further illustrated in one of the most important areas of the Gospel story, the so-called trial of Jesus. Most of the difficulties which have plagued students of the “trial” have come as a result of the concentration of scholars on the Matthaean-Markan version of this event to the neglect of Luke. I want here only to mention two important points connected with the discussion…


In the Gospel of Luke, no mention of a condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish authorities is recorded. This is of special interest in view of the failure of Luke to follow Mark in such a mention either at the point of the “trial” or in the recording of Jesus’ third prophecy of his demise in Jerusalem… Luke does not hesitate to report the delivery of Jesus to Pilate by the Jewish authorities yet does not mention the Markan “condemnation,” and when we note that Mark’s “all judged him worthy of death” (Mark 14:64) can easily be Mark’s interpretation and extension of the conclusion of the high priest’s decision in Luke 22:71. 


The second point concerns the Matthaean-Markan agreement that the high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy. Scholars have labored long and lovingly to explain what might have been the nature of this blasphemy… None of our Synoptic materials give any facts which clarify the charge of blasphemy.  The accusation of blasphemy is absent from Luke, as it the Markan reference to the tearing of the high priest’s cloths. There is only an interrogation by the high priests and a most remarkable description of Jesus’ dialogue with the priests the rabbinic sophistication of which is not less astounding than the Hebrew word order and idiom of the account. There is every reason to accept the Lukan version in preference to that of Matthew and Mark. (Ibid, p. 6-7)

Jerusalem School Hypothesis

According to Lindsey and other Jerusalem School scholars, Matthew and Luke, and perhaps Mark as well, were acquainted with an anthology (A) of Jesus’ words and deeds taken from the Greek translation of the Hebrew biography. Anthology (A) is essentially a Reorganized Source Text with narration, sayings of Jesus, and parables cataloged separately and out of chronological order. The story units, discourses, parables, and narratives of this translated document were somehow detached and removed from their original context. They were reorganized and rearranged so that their original sequence was lost.  Reconstruction (R) in the diagram is the first attempt to reconstruct the narrative based on the material cataloged in the Anthology (A).  Reconstruction (R) is a Greek biography reconstructing the story order of the original Hebrew text and its Greek translation. Some scholarship indicates that it is a possibility that something similar to R is the lost Gospel to the Hebrews mentioned by some patristic writers (James Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition, Wm. B. Eerdmans (2009)).  Luke alone was acquainted with this second source R. 

Again, Luke’s gospel is understood as being comprised of two primary sources: the reorganized source text (Anthology (A)) and the first reconstruction (R). Although hypothetical, their probable existence is strongly reflected in Luke. They account for the Lukan doublets (Luke 8:16 and 11:33; 8:17 and 12:2; 8:18 and 19:26; 9:3-5 and 10:3-12; 9:23 and 14:27; 9:24 and 17:33; 9:26 and 12:9; 9:46 and 22:24; 20:46 and 11:43; 21:14-15 and 12:11-12; 14:11 and 18:14). In addition, they explain why Matthew and Luke sometimes closely agree verbally in the double tradition and at other times fail to demonstrate uniformity in wording. 

Reconstruction (R) accounts for material that is substantially unique to Luke Because Mark and Matthew don’t substantially incorporate it, R is not pointing to Mark or Matthew. Yet, Mark clearly exhibits a Lukan influence in other areas of double and triple tradition. So, Mark is dependent on Luke but not R (and only R through Luke). For further justification, see David Bivin’s article on, LOY Excursus: Sources of the “String of Pearls” in Luke’s Gospel.
What the Jerusalem School Hypothesis has in common with the other two leading theories, including (1) the two-source hypothesis (2) Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre Hypothesis, is that Matthew is dependent on and derivative from Mark.

Stemma of the gospels set forth by the Jerusalem School Hypothesis. A Greek anthology (A), was used by each gospel. Luke also drew from an earlier lost gospel, a reconstruction (R) of the life of Jesus reconciling the anthology with yet another narrative work. Matthew has not used Luke directly.


Based on the evidence, Hebrew scholar David Flusser has affirmed the view of the Jerusalem School. 

My experience, chiefly based on the research of R.L. Lindsey, has shown me that Luke mostly preserves, in comparison to Mark (and to Matthew, when depending on Mark), the original tradition, and that Mark has rewritten his source (or sources) and so unfavorably influenced Matthew. (David Flusser, “The Last Supper and the Essenes,” Immanuel 2 (1973), p.25)


The references below provide further analysis attesting to Lukan Priority: