What is L material?
One Scholar, Price, in an investigation of Luke’s material writes that: “It seems that a majority of scholars believe that Luke was relying on a substantial source of pre existing source material known as “L” that is distinct from Q and Mark. But few modern scholars have written on the subject or attempted to outline “L”‘s parameters” (1).
L, like hypothetical Q, is widely accepted by New Testament historians. Again, Like Q it is hypothetical (meaning that its once off existence is very likely) as we don’t have it in extant form.
“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).
Evidence for L.
Although literature on L material, or M material (Matthew’s special material), is not nearly as comprehensive as other New Testament texts scholar Robert van Voorst outlines six primary reasons why scholars agree to L’s existence (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 explains L’s content: “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 also dates L between 40 – 60 AD which making it earlier than the Gospel of Mark (70 AD). Paffenroth gives four main 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).
What can we learn about Jesus from L source?
Nevertheless, from L we can learn some things about Jesus. If L is successfully dated within the 40s, before the 50s, or even in the 60s AD it provides early material for the historian. New Testament scholar Ehrman writes “That Jesus lived recently is affirmed not only in all four of our canonical Gospels…. It is also the view of all of the Gospel Sources – Q…M, L – and of the non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus” (6).
This is coupled with affirmation of Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker, as Price explains: “Every canonical gospel source, Mark, Q, M, L, and John, affirms the miracle-working activities of Jesus. Less friendly sources, such as Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud, also attest to Jesus as a miracle worker… In sum, both the unique “M” and “L” materials contain independent references to Jesus’ miraculous deeds. Those materials, moreover, was already in existence in their respective communities. Therefore, they provide independent sources to the miracle working of Jesus” (7).
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.