Comparing the Lazarus story in Luke with the Lazarus story in John

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by Neil Godfrey

I am posting this as a sort of appendix to Tim’s Bowling with Bumpers or How Not to Do Critical Scholarship. Unfortunately time prohibits me from expanding on the chart anyone interested in the relationship between the Gospels of Luke and John can read the author’s (Keith L. Yoder’s) own full account at From Luke to John: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in the Fourth Gospel. The chart is taken from Keith’s presentation at that site. Keith has other interesting papers on the relationship between Luke and John at his site, Selected Works of Keith L. Yoder, and much more. He’s a Research Fellow at the University of Massachusetts with a special interest in applied statistical analysis and biblical studies. So if you’re interested in arguments for/against interpolations and intertextuality have a look for more articles there.


Luke’s Mary

and Martha

Luke’s Rich Man

and Lazarus


John’s Raising

of Lazarus

John’s Anointing

of Lazarus

1. “Village”


11:1 (30)

2. “Mary, Martha, sister”


11:1 (5)


3. Mary “sitting”



4. Mary “at the feet”



5. Jesus is “Lord”

10:39 (40,41)


6. Martha “serving”



7. Martha speaks first



8. Mary silent/shadow





9. Incipit “a certain”





10. “Lazarus”




11. Lazarus “died”


11:14 (21,32)

12. Lazarus silent/passive




13. “lifted up his eyes”



14. “and said, ‘Father’”



15. “five brothers”




16. Petition to raise/send back Lazarus



17. Petition denied/granted



18. Resulting disbelief/belief




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14 thoughts on “Comparing the Lazarus story in Luke with the Lazarus story in John”

  1. More and more it seems, in terms of sources, the core faith elements lead back to the pre Pauline Corinthian Creed, that indicates only scriptures and visions as sources.

  2. I agree with Yoder about the literary connection but his reasoning for John using Luke seems weak. The first three arguments about “a village”, “Lord”, and “a certain” would have us thinking that Mark was derived from Luke. If Luke liked to use the words, there is a greater chance of having a hit when the other gospels used the word a few times.

    It seems to me that the emphasis on the brother-sister relationships may have come from the Lazarus resurrection coming from the Pyramid Texts of the resurrection of Osiris by Horus with Osiris’ two sisters watching. A parallel I came across that I have not seen associated with that theory is that the name Martha is Aramaic for “mistress of the house” where “mistress” is the feminine form of “master”. The hieroglyphics for Nephthys has a symbol for “mistress” as the feminine form of “master” and “enclosure” or “house”.

    I agree that Luke likes to use the number five but counting the use of certain words that total five seems like a stretch.

    I would argue that Luke knew John and rejected the Lazarus story. Luke used Josephus often and Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1 tells us that the high priest Ananus had five sons who became high priest. John 18:13 tells us that Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Ananus so Luke may have put these factoids together to have the rich man in Hades represent Caiaphas with his five brothers.

    1. I have long see-sawed over the question of whether John or Luke was the last to be written or at least completed in its canonical form. It might be worth noting that there is another instance where a single unit in one gospel appears to be replicated (coincidentally or by design?) in different stories in Luke. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew finds snippets scattered in different contexts in Luke. So that’s another instance of the sort of comparison being made here between Luke and John over the Lazarus, Martha, Mary stories (plural and scattered in Luke — a single unit in John.)

  3. Fom Yoder… What “-All-” means:

    “Element rows 8, 12, and 15 contain an “-All-“ annotation in one or more
    columns, indicating either that there is no particular reference or that there are multiple
    references scattered all throughout that particular text; the Order column for those three rows
    are marked “NA” for not applicable”

  4. I spoke with Yoder. He had quite a discussion with the Johnmine scholar Paul Anderson over at a yahoo academic group years ago. Anderson is part of a John study group that is publishing books about how we can find historically authentic info in the fourth Gospel, and that Luke was written after John. Yoder was not convinced. Here is an example of their exchanges: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/johannine_literature/conversations/topics/5960

    I think Anderson argues that Lazarus was a real person and the miracle tale could be true, but the story in GLuke involving the same name was meant by GLuke to protect the real Lazarus in some way since he had to go into hiding as it says in the fourth Gospel. Anderson had other arguments as well of course. But I’m sure the Lazarus story is a difficult one to make seem true and then have GLuke tell a less impressive story. One rather thinks legends work in the other direction.

    Speaking of which, Note how Mark is the base Gospel, while Matthew copies nearly all of Mark, including the same number of miracles overall (excluding Matthew’s special materials added to the very beginning and ending of his Gospel) and in the same order. Luke seems to rely on Mark and Matthew, but he is breaking down the order of Mark and Matthew more, and separating the “Q” material into more discrete bits, thus growing further from the Markan base. While John practically goes off the rails, though retaining some obvious elements from Mark and Luke mostly.

    Also note how each Gospel writer appears to be writing THE Gospel that they imagined would be prized more than the others. Matthew’s opening contains echoes of Genesis, and the fourth Gospel contains such echoes even moreso. Luke-Acts actually says its intent is to outdo the rest. It looks like a game of “my Gospel is more impressive than yours.” Certainly Matthew corrects Mark’s grammar, tells stories in more compact fashion, and leaves out embarrassing bits in Mark like Jesus’ family thinking he’s lost his mind, or the young man running away naked (as well as the young man at the tomb, replacing him with an angel who comes down out of heaven). Kenneth Humphries has a nice video about how Matthew’s retellings of Mark aggrandize Jesus more than the original Markan versions. Luke goes whole hog writing lengthy detailed parables about love and compassion like the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, Luke also outdoes Matthew by adding a second miraculous birth tale and includes what appear to be musical poetic canticles to the story of Jesus’ and the Baptist’s miraculous births. Luke the Musical! Takes some time and imagination to come up with all that. But in the end, it looks like the authors were trying to outdo one another. And it looks like the fourth Gospel, chock filled with theological terms and the author’s theological opening and the tale of the raising of Lazarus after being dead for days succeeded the most in capturing people’s imaginations. Jesus is pretty much in control in that Gospel, since everyone notices he is the Messiah right in the first chapter, and the soldiers who come to arrest him all fall down when he says, “I am he,” near the end of the Gospel. Whew. And then there’s the “born again” chapter, the cult password par excellence that Evangelical’s love, “Ye must be born again.”

    My pieces on the Lazarus question as well as the Born Again question and the Gospel of John’s questionable historicity are all under the heading Gospel of John: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/search/label/Gospel%20of%20John

    1. The question of finding historicity in the gospels is an interesting one. It is actually based on the acceptance, I think, of the core of the theological message of those gospels. That message is that the gospel “is true”. Jesus really came into the world, into history, etc. That theological claim has been mistaken for a historical one in itself by the academy in general.

      Thanks for the links.

  5. The problem with the relative order of Luke and John is that there was a Marcionite version of Luke. If you accept Marcionite priority many of the problems disappear. The Lazarus story is in Marcion, at least 16:19-29, as the last two verses are not attested and allow a Catholic interpretation(a), with the Gospel of/via repentance message (e.g., Matthew 4:17 also Mark 1:14-15) extending it to the Jews. Without the last two verses the Lazarus passage in Luke is very Marcionite, ending on the phrase “They have there Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” The passage emphasizes the difference in the path of the two teachings.

    In John the Lazarus story is recast, with similar heretical purpose. The biggest notable difference theologically from my perspective is that Abraham is missing. As with the Marcionite reading of Galatians 4:22-31 (Detering’s reproduction is a good one), Abraham is not the bad guy in Marcionite theology, rather the branching point between the free (Gentiles) and slaves (Jews). Later Gnostics and Marcionites (that is after the Marcionite NT form was written) added Abraham to the list of those OT personalities not saved (e.g., Epiphanius P42.4.4), one of several reasons why I do not think the writer of John’s early layers was Marcionite.

    Anyway from a theological standpoint John is both after Luke in Marcionite form, and before Luke in Catholic form. … if you accept Marcionite priority. (IMO Matthew slots between Marcionite Luke and John). So you are likely right whichever side of the argument you take on John before or after Luke.

    (a) both Epiphanius P42.11.6 #46 and Tertullian AM 4.34.10 empahsize verse 16:29 with no mention of 16:30-31; The Catholic hero Adamantius (DA 2.10) does add those to verses specifically to make the Catholic argument equating the Law (Moses) and Prophets with Jesus (the one risen).

    1. correction on the last comment. John’s Gospel from the earliest layers has the same lofty position for Abraham above all the other OT figures, separate from the Law (books of Moses) and (books of) the Prophets. John 8:31-45 sides Abraham with Jesus and against the Demiurge and Law giver (e.g., verse 8:44). Verse 8:31 makes it clear the Jews Jesus is talking to are Jewish Christians (“Jews who had believed in him”), suggesting followers of Matthew instead of Marcion’s Gospel. The difference with Marcion is Jesus was there from the beginning (also John’s Proem), rather than just appearing. There are also differences in John the Baptist, who is not last prophet and is not of the Jewish God. So we are not looking at a Marcionite author.

      Anyway the mention that Jesus was approved of and known by Abraham (8:56-58) seems show the author is fully aware of Luke 16:19-29 Lazarus story. For me that answers the question which was first.

      Note: Matthew (eg, Guards at tomb), John (eg, chapter 21, Thomas layer), and even Catholic Luke have some elements from a later era than the main text. So when I speak of authorship, I mean the core. John was reworked to be orthodox friendly, making it surprising 8:31-58 survived intact.

    2. Interesting points. Are you aware of Roger Parvus’s argument for the core of the Gospel of John being a production of Apelles who broke away from Marcion?

      1. Yes, I’m aware, I read his book. He also presumes the Ignatian epistles are Apellean – but too much text adjustment for my liking, undermines his argument. His reason for John is part of the reconciliation between the two camps to form the Catholic church as we know it.

        While I do think there must have been some faction which reconciled and brought a version of the Marcionite Gospel and Paul into the proto-Orthodox camp, Parvus connects too many elements weakly to support his story (eg, that John is derivative of Philumina writings). The reconciliation with some unknown (maybe Apelles, maybe not) discontent leader of a heretic sect is sound, and I would separate that from the rest of his weaker points.

        There have been many who have argued John has Marcionite roots, starting with Turmel. But specifics of the theology are not well connected. My own estimate is that John was written after the proto-Orthodox got the upper hand and started excommunicating (ἀποσυνάγωγος) those who confessed the Heretical Jesus of the Good God (see John 9:22 for clear example, with 8:31 in mind; also 12:42, 16:1) as is explained in the author’s summary of why he wrote the Gospel in 16:1-5.

        I conclude he is Gnostic, already an “underground” heretical Bishop, telling those of his confession to hang on to that. The theology looks more like a branch of the Valentinian on the trajectory not far from Bardenes. It’s not Apellean (he did not have a preexisting Christ like the Valentinians, rather shared a version of the appearing Christ of Marcion) as recorded by the early Church fathers. But then again, as we see with the Marcionite writings about Abraham, not everything told to us is accurate.

  6. Neil – Thank you for commenting on my unpublished 2011 Lazarus paper, an early attempt of mine to establish literary influence from Luke into John. That paper had serious weaknesses, but I still stand by the thesis there, and I hope to rewrite the whole piece later this year.

    Since then, I have come to realize that the Lazarus story in John 11 is closely connected with the Anointing in ch.11, and both are interlocked with the Foot Washing of ch.13; I have a little chart to that effect posted on my web page. This John 11-12-13 connection is important for both Lazarus and the Anointing, because I stumbled last year across an even larger array of literary parallels between John’s Foot Washing and the Sinful Woman in Luke7:36-50. Several of those parallel features contain clear indicators of Lukan priority.

    I presented all this as a paper in March 2016 at a regional SBL meeting in Ohio, and have since submitted a revised version to a journal for publication – still awaiting their decision. A slightly different revision is on my works.bepress webpage as “Mimesis: Foot Washing from Luke 7 to John 13”. I would invite any who doubt John’s literary dependence on Luke to consider my arguments there. The effect of this Foot Washing emulation along with other new evidence will be included in my Lazarus re-write, whenever I can get time to finish it.

    Keith Yoder
    Warring States Project
    University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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