In this chapter I will briefly discuss the chief written sources of which St Luke most probably made use. The best place to start a study of his authorities is with his own preface and acknowledgements :
Many have been at pains to set forth the history of what time has brought to fulfilment among us, following the tradition of those first eye-witnesses and ministers of the word.And I too, most noble Theophilus, have resolved to put the story in writing for thee as it befell, having first traced it carefully from its beginnings, that thou mayst understand the instruction thou hast already received, in all its certainty.
In writing this, Luke's aim is not strictly to make his acknowledgements or cite his authorities. It is rather a self-vindication. How dare he, Luke, set about writing the gospel story ? He answers that it has been done already and by 'many', distinguishing these from a more exalted group of 'eyewitnesses and ministers of the word'. He is on a level with the many; what they have done, why should not he do ? Like them he has learnt from the tradition of the eye-witnesses and accredited teachers, and will take care to write in order and with accuracy. However, in making this little defence Luke does reveal the sort of authorities of which he, who had no personal direct knowledge of the Lord's life, had made use. Evidently he had studied the accounts of the 'many'. He does not say who they are, nor what their writings were like; probably several of these were short enough, others, like St Mark's gospel which he certainly knew, of greater length. It is generally thought that Luke could not have intended to include St Matthew's gospel in this general reference, because that was the gospel of an apostle, and he distinguishes the 'many' from the ' eye-witnesses and ministers of the word'; as St Matthew was most certainly one of the latter, it is argued, he could not also be one of the former; but perhaps this is to read too much into Luke's words. The difference was rather of function: St Luke wishes to say that basing themselves on recognized teaching some have written ordered accounts of the gospel events of a more personal character. Furthermore the first gospel, most probably read by Luke in one or another of the Greek translations made somewhat haphazard, as Papias tells us, from the Aramaic original, may hardly have appeared to him as a strictly apostolic gospel at all. Without title, it would have been simply the most important account of the Lord's life current in Christian circles in his time.
Luke's literary relations with Mark have been minutely studied time and again, and I will only treat of them here in the briefest possible way. Luke presumably read Mark's gospel for the first time after arriving with Paul in Rome. He at once recognized its value due to its vivid, dramatic character and the weight of the Petrine authority behind it; and he decided to incorporate large parts of it, with only minor changes, in his own narrative. It is generally agreed that Luke depends on the second gospel for all those very considerable parts which they (and St Matthew) have in common. Thus, very generally, Luke 4:31-6:19 depends on Mark 1:2-3:19 ; Luke 8:4-9:50 on Mark 4:1-9:39; and Luke 18:15-43 on Mark 10:13-52.This dependence is not always equally close, and these passages may include some non-Marcan material. St Luke is always fairly free with stylistic changes, but at times, as in the Transfiguration story, he does more, either because he has obtained additional information or in order to bring out an idea of his own. Luke's debt to Mark was evidently very great; perhaps indeed too great, for one feels that he did not succeed in digesting his Marcan borrowings sufficiently and they stand as a result somewhat apart from the central themes of the third gospel. This immense use of Mark is best explained by Luke's undoubted reverence for St Peter, most authoritative witness of Jesus' ministry and Resurrection. If Marcan material bulks so large in the pages of the third gospel it is because it represented for Luke the testimony of Peter himself.
Turning from the 'triple tradition' (material common to Matthew, Mark and Luke) to the 'double tradition' (the sections common only to Matthew and Luke) we find that these passages are not located in two or three large blocks, like the former, but are scattered about up and down the third gospel. Good examples are Luke 12:39-46, to be compared with Matthew 24:43-51; and Luke 7:18-35, to be compared with Matthew 11:2-19 (but in the latter note the omission by Luke of verse 14). Again, these portions of Luke have received intensive study; the problem of their relationship with the first gospel is an important one, but not one which I intend to examine at length. It is evident that either Luke here depends on Matthew, or Matthew on Luke, or both on a now lost third work. No one supposes that Matthew depends on Luke, hence either Luke used Matthew or—as most scholars hold—they both used a third source, which has been given the famous name of Q, and whose existence was until recently almost a dogma of scientific faith, but is now coming in for some severe questioning. M. Vaganay, a distinguished French Catholic scholar, has recently presented a rather complicated solution of his own,cutting up the old Q into M and S, two Aramaic documents, of which M would be the original gospel of St Matthew, but very different from the later canonical version. St Luke, M. Vaganay thinks, did not know of our canonical Matthew, but did make use of a Greek translation of the earlier version. In two other recent studies Abbot Butler and Doctor Farrer accept Luke's dependence on canonical Matthew, but subsequently to this Abbot Butler has admitted that the Matthew which Luke knew may indeed have been a kind of first edition somewhat different from the Matthew which we know today. This seems to me both the simplest and most likely solution to the problem. It is difficult to understand how the careful and widely-travelled Luke could have missed the first gospel if it had appeared before he wrote; and it probably had, as St Paul seems to make use of it in the epistles to the Thessalonians ; if Paul knew Matthew it is almost inconceivable that Luke did not do so as well.
The parts of the third gospel which interest me most, however, are not those which Luke owed to Matthew and Mark, but those which are not paralleled elsewhere. These very considerable portions include chapters 1-2, most of the famous 'central section' 9:51-18:14, and a great deal of Luke's Passion and Resurrection narrative. It is above all the source for the central section which worries the critics; whence did Luke obtain his information about this whole part of Jesus' ministry on which the other evangelists are almost silent? about the mission of the Seventy-two? about such parables as those of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Publican and the Pharisee ? The great value of this section, and also its rather mysterious character, are widely recognized. Lagrange said that it was' of priceless value', while Vaganay has called it 'the treasure of Luke'.Some have thought that behind it there was another single document, called by the name of ' Proto-Luke and perhaps actually written by Luke himself before writing the complete gospel (i.e. before merging it with the material drawn from the gospel of St Mark). But this theory of 'Proto-Luke' has really very little to be said in its favour and is now generally abandoned. The central section of Luke is a patchwork, based in part perhaps on short documents, but mostly on the oral tradition of those whom St Luke consulted; and this has permitted him to leave here the impress of his own mind more clearly than elsewhere; hence it is especially in this part that the great Lucan gospel themes appear.
There is only one other important written source behind the third gospel: it is that responsible for the first two chapters. In this connection it is first worth noticing that a recent studyhas tried to show that the chief source behind the whole third gospel—the gospel of the gentiles—was no other than the Judaeo-Christian community of Jerusalem and St James, its head. Moreover, it is held, the latter was not only Luke's principal source but also that of St Paul, who was as we know very closely connected with Luke. It is true that Paul had been in close contact with James on various occasions, but it is equally clear that their approaches to Christian problems were strikingly diverse. Certainly it is not unlikely that Paul learnt a part of what he knew about the details of the Lord's life in the course of his various visits to Jerusalem and to James. Luke, during his long stay in Palestine before the journey to Rome, may also have learnt from the same source, though as a gentile Christian he would probably not have felt very comfortable in the atmosphere of the Church of Jerusalem. Behind some of Paul's and Luke's factual knowledge of Jesus' life it is permissible to see then the witness of James and the traditions of Jerusalem. However, the chief explanation of that immense concern with Jerusalem which has been noted as so striking a characteristic of the third gospel lies not in Luke's sources so much as in his theology, in the plan and purpose of his gospel. This is particularly clear as a great many of his references to Jerusalem have an obviously artificial character; they will be explained later, not by sources but by 'plot'.
To consider St Luke's as simply the gospel of the Church of Jerusalem, in contrast with the 'Galilean' gospels of Matthew and Mark, is to over-simplify. Galilee and Jerusalem were not the only places from which a gospel story could come, and were not all the churches daughters of Jerusalem ? The tone of many of St Luke's references to Jerusalem is not at all what we should expect from the Judaeo-Christian Church there itself. More likely his debt was in the first place to his own Church of Antioch and its elders; Antioch was founded from Jerusalem, and doubtless its traditions incorporated some of those of the mother church. In so far as the third gospel can be said to be the gospel of any one Church, it is Antioch rather than Jerusalem, though probably St Luke actually wrote in Rome.
Nevertheless in the first two chapters of the third gospel we can fairly safely detect the immediate influence of the Christian community of Jerusalem, and so perhaps of James himself. These chapters form a literary unit in themselves and contrast sharply with most of the rest of the gospel on account of their strongly Judaic and Old Testament character; their theology, spirituality and language are all reminiscent of the old rather than the new dispensation. The stylistic difference between Luke's refined and very Greek preface (1:1-4) and the subsequent verses is most striking. These two chapters are at present undergoing intensive study. In a series of articles Dr Winter has produced convincing evidence to show that they were not in origin Luke's work, but the translation of a Hebrew original : their Old Testament references are closer to the Hebrew than they are to the Septuagint, and their etymological name references make no sense in Greek.The theory, popularized by Harnack and still somewhat in vogue, that Luke was carefully shamming a septuagintal style in these chapters simply does not stand up to careful examination. Incidentally this conclusion gives strong support to the defence of the narrative's historical character; for if Harnack, and so many others, have tried to maintain that Luke had no written source, but wrote in a sham Old Testament style, it is largely because it is so much easier to deny historical value to a comparatively late Greek work of Luke than to an earlier account in Hebrew. Above all this has an important bearing on the historicity of the Virgin Birth which many have tried to explain away as a Christian borrowing from Hellenic religion. In fact we find it in the most primitive and most Judaic parts of the New Testament (Lk. 1-2, Mt. 1) and hence those least likely to be influenced by the Greek world. Furthermore Luke's two chapters, dependent as they are on the Hebrew and not on the Septuagint, derive not only from a Jewish source, but from Palestinian, not Hellenistic, Judaism. The account of the Virgin Birth is an integral part of these two chapters, and hence cannot be explained away as a borrowing from some far-fetched 'parallel' discovered in a wholly different cultural milieu.
We have here, then, a document translated into Greek and adapted by Luke, but still preserving most of its original character, and full of fascinating detail which localizes the story so well in the Jewish world of that time: ' There was a priest called Zachary, of Abia's turn of office, who had married a wife of Aaron's family, by name Elizabeth' and so on (1:5). We don't know who the author was: certainly a member of the Christian-Jewish community of Palestine and probably of the Church of Jerusalem, ruled over by James. The sources of the story could have been many: James himself, of course, and other members of Jesus' family, but especially Our Lady.' But Mary treasured up all these sayings, and reflected on them in her heart' (2:19) and again it is written that 'his mother kept in her heart the memory of all this' (2:51). What are these but gentle acknowledgements to the memory of a principal person in the story ? And so it is not fanciful to call these chapters 'Our Lady's gospel'.
The aim of this little and wholly charming work was perhaps to convince the Jewish world that the best representatives of the true Israel had received Jesus in a most fitting way, and that there is no possible contradiction between the new and the old. Zachary and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna, were all beautiful examples of Old Testament piety and devotion, and at the same time typified every side of Israel's life: priest, prophet and layman, the learned and the simple; yet they had all welcomed the messiah Jesus, and the Jewish Christians of the community of Jerusalem were only following their example. Just as John's birth reminds us of those of Isaac (Gen. 21) and Samson (Jud. 13), so Jesus' nativity is described in a traditional style which finds a model in the birth narrative of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 1-3).The Magnificat is not unlike the canticle of Samuel's mother Anna, and as Samuel's birth was the answer to Anna's prayer so was Jesus' the answer to the prayer of all Israel. The narrative constantly takes us to the Temple, the centre of all religious life for the Jews, and further proof that Jesus is the expected Messiah is given in the stress on the Holy Spirit's presence. According to the prophets the Messiah and messianic times were to be full of the Spirit; our document shows this as fulfilled; and not only Jesus but all those near him are manifestly overflowing with the Spirit of God. What could this mean to a pious Jew except that the messianic era had begun ?
This document may originally have been longer than the two first chapters of our gospel, including, for instance, such other matter as Our Lord's genealogy (3:23-38). It has often been remarked how similar in character the first chapters of the third gospel are to those of the Acts. This can easily be explained. The first part of the Acts vividly describes the atmosphere in the primitive Christian Church of Jerusalem, while it was in just that atmosphere that the early chapters of the gospel were written; they naturally reflect the mentality of those who wrote them.St Luke felt the special importance of this document and included it, translated into Greek hut not much altered, in the book he was writing. It is highly probable that he knew St Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, but he easily realized that to incorporate matter from it would spoil the distinctive character of his own account, for the two were very different in scope. Once we rid our minds of the wholly false idea that the gospels were intended as mere chronicles of all the known facts, the difficulty about why St Luke ignores St Matthew's account of the infancy ceases to exist.
If Luke was not the primary author of his first two chapters, this does not mean that they do not fit into the higher plan of the third gospel. Though at first sight their tendency may seem very different from his own, yet I believe that he incorporated them quite deliberately, and that they fulfil a role of some importance within the complete thought-pattern of his writings.