Luke begins with several events that take place at the Temple:

Angel appearing to Zechariah in the Holy Place [Luke 1:5-25] - Jesus' circumcision [Luke 2:21] The presentation in the Temple [Luke 2:22-38] In the Temple when 12-years old [Luke 2:41-50]

Luke ends with the disciples in the Temple:

And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen. (Luke 24:52-53 NKJV)

Does this Temple focus suggest a source who was a priest? Is this evidence that Luke had a source who was a priest? Are there any scholars who have considered that Luke's special source [L Source] was a priest?

  • This looks like an interesting question, but remember that a good question is expected to have a specific passage from which we can use hermeneutic methods. Do you think you could nominate the passage you want us to look at? This may require splitting the present question into up to 5 separate, parallel questions that ask whether each passage was based on a priestly source. – Dick Harfield Feb 4 '17 at 22:42
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    I actually disagree with the Votes To Close here: I don't think the question is 'too broad' (it's asking about a very specific issue), nor is it 'opinion based' (OP asks for 'evidence' and for scholarly input). While it is not strictly about exegeting 'a specific Bible passage', it is a question about 'the history of that biblical text itself', namely, the Gospel of Luke. We have other broad (but not 'too broad') questions on the Documentary Hypothesis and The Author of Luke. – user2910 Feb 5 '17 at 23:56
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    So I think this question is fully on-topic as a question of 'source criticism' (I'm adding the recommended tag now), given the precedent we have set in previous accepted questions. – user2910 Feb 5 '17 at 23:57
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    I agree completely with @Mark Edward here. I'm not a proponent of source criticism, but it is nevertheless a fully on topic point for BH.SE all by itself and I would say also classifies as related to historical context of a particular text, the text being Luke's gospel (a text does not have to be isolated to a single verse or small subset of verses in all cases, especially in these author related questions). Sometimes I wish there were a "vote to not close" in opposition to votes to close. – ScottS Feb 6 '17 at 0:12
  • Oh, I guess there is a level of "do not close" voting capability for those with reviewing capabilities. That shows you how much time I spend in the review area... :-\ – ScottS Feb 6 '17 at 0:19

The evidence that Luke might have used a priest as one of the sources for his gospel can be broken down into statistical evidence of a focus on the temple or on the priesthood, and evidence that would require the expertise or special knowledge of a priest. The evidence that he was not likely to have had assistance from a priest is to be found in source criticism.

It is proposed that Luke has a Temple focus, as one might expect if the author was being advised by a priest, so I did some elementary statistical analysis to see how strong this focus is. Of the synoptic gospels, Matthew refers to the temple 17 time, Mark refers to it 11 times and Luke refers to the temple 19 times. As Luke is noticeably longer than the other two gospels, the difference is not sufficient to suggest a focus on the temple. Far from having a temple focus, Luke 24:52-53 is a beautifully written ode to Jesus that no priest faithful to the Jewish religion would be likely to have suggested to the author of Luke or to have assisted in writing.

Many scholars have noted parallels between Luke and the works of Josephus, so if the author had a source for the story of Jesus enthralling the Jewish scholars in the temple, with his knowledge and understanding of the scriptures, some scholars see this as influenced by Josephus' account of his own childhood, with Jesus achieving the same milestone two years earlier than Josephus did:

Life 2: Moreover, when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law.

Since Josephus was a former priest, technically we could say that this is one reasonably likely case where Luke did have a priestly source. I submit that there is nothing in the other passages cited that require the author to have used a Jewish priest as a source:

  • Luke 1:9 states "According to the custom of the priest's office, his [Zacharias'] lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord." That a priest was assigned to burn incense would be known to a priest, but also widely known in Jerusalem.
  • It was well known to all in the first century Jewish milieu that all Jewish boys must be circumcised and that all first-born must be presented in the temple (Exodus 13:2) - see Matthew Henry's Commentary.

Finally, to source criticism. The special source (L Source) suggested in the question as one of Luke's sources is part of one hypothesis intended to help explain the synoptic problem. The focus here is on satisfactorily explaining the sources of the synoptic gospels, which clearly have a literary relationship, with nearly all New Testament scholars acknowledging that Mark's Gospel was the major source (along with 'Q' and other, special sources) used by the authors of both Matthew and Luke. At the same time, scholars say that Mark was written approximately 70 CE, which means that Luke's Gospel was written probably decades later, perhaps even in the early second century. This relationship means that, at the time Luke was written, the temple no longer existed, there were no longer any Jewish priests, and the Sadducees, who provided the temple priests, had faded from history. The author of Luke does not acknowledge receiving assistance from any Jewish priests and indeed is unlikely to have known of any. Perhaps he knew of some oral or written sources passed down from a temple priest, but I believe the examples given in the question are not strong evidence of this.

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  • Since Josephus was a priest, wouldn't parallels between Luke and Josephus also suggest a priestly influence in Luke? And priests were known to have responsibilities in the synagogue. Philo said they were responsible for reading and interpreting the Torah. The destruction of the Temple relative to the writing of Luke (if that assumption is correct) did not eliminate that role. – Revelation Lad Feb 6 '17 at 5:55
  • You're right: Josephus was a former priest, but that was more than twenty years in the past. In the nineties, he is best described as a Jewish historian. The parallel (if it is from Life) did not come from Josephus in his role as a former priest and Josephus is unlikely to have known that Luke's author was even copying his material. – Dick Harfield Feb 6 '17 at 6:35
  • Philo died in 50 CE, so he was writing about events that occurred during the period when the priesthood still flourished, but for how long is hard to say. Philo's statement (isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1202528.files/Lesson%203/…, page 156) "But some priest who is present or one of the elders reads the holy laws..." suggests this happened when a community was fortunate enough to have a priest visit, rather than that priests were spread out around the diaspora, attached to particular synagogues. – Dick Harfield Feb 6 '17 at 6:37
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    If it's of any interest, the statistics literally go: Luke (19 mentions out of 19,482 words = 1/1025 ratio); Mark (11 mentions out of 11,304 words = 1/1027 ratio); Matthew (17 mentions out of 18,346 words = 1/1079 ratio). So you're absolutely right, the proportion of temple references is highly similar between all three of the gospels. I'd find it interesting to see the statistics for the unique material contained in Mt/Lk for reference's sake, though that's too much work for a Monday morning... – Steve Taylor Feb 6 '17 at 8:23

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