William Lockton, Robert Lindsey’s Forerunner

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In 1922 William Lockton wrote an article for The Church Quarterly Review that challenged the foundations of accepted synoptic theory by positing that Luke was the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels.

Revised: 18-August-2017
Lockton's solution to the Synoptic Problem

Lockton’s solution to the Synoptic Problem

In 1922 William Lockton—a forty-three-year-old clergyman and mathematician previously unknown in the field of Synoptic Gospel research—wrote an article for The Church Quarterly Review that challenged the foundations of accepted synoptic theory.[1] Lockton had discovered that the Gospel of Luke was the first canonical Gospel written. Lockton further demonstrated that the author of Mark had relied on the Gospel of Luke, and that the author of Matthew relied on the Gospel of Mark while also relying on the Gospel of Luke. Within five years, Lockton also had written three books on the Synoptic Problem: The Resurrection and Other Gospel Narratives and The Narratives of the Virgin Birth (1924); The Three Traditions in the Gospels (1926); and Certain Alleged Gospel Sources: A Study of Q, Proto-Luke and M (1927).

The Significance of Lockton’s Work for Lindsey’s Synoptic Theory

Decades later, Robert Lindsey independently arrived at conclusions similar to Lockton’s. Like Lockton, Lindsey realized that the Gospel of Luke is the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels, that Mark reworked Luke, and that Matthew relied on Mark.

When he came to his solution to the Synoptic Problem in 1962, however, Lindsey was initially skeptical of his own theory since he had never heard of any scholar who had suggested that the Gospel of Luke was written prior to the Gospel of Mark.[2] Reflecting on his breakthrough moment, Lindsey wrote:

When I discovered that Mark, in writing his account, had used the Gospel of Luke, my knowledge of the history of the Synoptic Problem was very limited. Perhaps this was fortunate, for I began to explore scholarly literature to see if anyone else had suggested that Luke was the first-written of the Synoptic Gospels. After considerable searching, I found in McNeile’s An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament a note stating that William Lockton had proposed [JP editors: in The Church Quarterly Review] that “Mark was formed out of Luke, the earliest Gospel, and Matthew out of both Luke and Mark.” This was all, the barest reference, and I was thousands of miles from the nearest copy of The Church Quarterly Review, published in England.[3]

Eventually, with the help of a friend in England, Lindsey was able to obtain a detailed summary of Lockton’s article. Lindsey was struck by Lockton’s emphasis on the importance of the “minor agreements,” and especially by his analysis of Jesus’ eschatological discourse recorded in Luke 21, Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Lockton’s research was independent confirmation of the correctness of Lindsey’s theory that “Luke is first” and that the order of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels is Luke → Mark → Matthew.[4] Nevertheless, Lindsey’s hypothesis differed from Lockton’s in one significant respect: whereas Lockton believed that Mark and Matthew had copied Luke, Lindsey believed that the author of Matthew had no knowledge of Luke, but rather depended on one of Luke’s sources.

Lindsey’s Theory of the Transmission of Synoptic materials from the conjectured Hebrew source down to the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Emboldened by the confirmation from Lockton’s work and encouraged by his friend, Professor David Flusser of the Hebrew University, who was convinced that Lindsey’s theory had merit, Lindsey published his preliminary findings in an article entitled “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence” in the journal Novum Testamentum in the autumn of 1963.[5] In the years that followed Lindsey continued to refine and defend his hypothesis in books and articles, most of which can be found on JerusalemPerspective.com.[6]

The Biography of William Lockton

Since Lockton’s discovery was so important to Lindsey, it is only natural that Lockton’s life, as well as his research, should be of interest to those who subscribe to Lindsey’s synoptic hypothesis. The following is a brief biography of Lockton published by his alma mater, Cambridge University:

LOCKTON, WILLIAM. Adm. pens. at ST JOHN’S, Aug. 17, 1897. S. of Henry Herbert, formerly police-sergeant, of Shepshed, Leics. [and Clara Woolley]. B. Nov. 23, 1878, at Kegworth. Schools, Loughborough Grammar (Rev. J. P. Polgrave) and Grantham Grammar (Mr W. J. Hutchings). Matric. Michs. 1897; Scholar, 1897; Lady Kay Scholar; B.A. 1900. Migrated to Jesus, Oct. 1900; M.A. 1904. B.D. 1920, from St John’s. Ord. deacon (Exeter) 1902; priest, 1903; C. of St Matthew’s Exeter, 1902-10. Vice-Principal of St Peter’s College, Peterborough, 1914-15. Lecturer and Assistant Chaplain at Saltley College, Birmingham, 1915-16. Assistant Master at Denstone College, 1916-19. Vice-Principal and Assistant Chaplain at Winchester Diocesan Training College, 1910-36. Author, The Remains of the Eucharist; The Three Traditions in the Gospels; Divers Orders of Ministers, etc. Resided latterly at Loughborough, where he died Feb. 12, 1937. (Crockford; The Times, Feb. 15, 1937.) (Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge from the Earliest Times to 1900, Part II: From 1752 to 1900: Volume IV: Kahlenberg-Oyler [compiled by J. A. Venn; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951], p. 197.)

Expanded version of Lockton’s above biography:

Lockton, William.
Adm[itted as a] pens[ioner] at ST JOHN’S, Aug. 17, 1897.
S[on] of Henry Herbert, formerly police-sergeant, of Shepshed, Leic[e]s[tershire] [and Clara Woolley].
B[orn] Nov. 23, 1878, at Kegworth [Leicestershire].
Schools, Loughborough Grammar [Leicestershire] (Rev. J. P. Polgrave) and Grantham Grammar [Lincolnshire] (Mr W. J. Hutchings). Matric[ulation] Mich[aelma]s 1897;
Scholar, 1897; Lady Kay Scholar; B.A. 1900.
Migrated [i.e., transferred] to Jesus [College, Cambridge. U.], Oct. 1900;
M.A. 1904. B.D. 1920, from St John’s [College, Cambridge. U.].
Ord[ained] deacon (Exeter [Devon]) 1902; [Ordained] priest, 1903;
C[anon] of St Matthew’s Exeter [Devon], 1902-10.
Vice-Principal of St Peter’s College, Peterborough [Northamptonshire], 1914-15.
Lecturer and Assistant Chaplain at Saltley College, Birmingham [Warwickshire], 1915-16.
Assistant Master at Denstone College [Staffordshire], 1916-19.
Vice-Principal and Assistant Chaplain at Winchester Diocesan Training College [Winchester, Hampshire], 1910-36.
Author, The Remains of the Eucharist; The Three Traditions in the Gospels; Divers Orders of Ministers, etc.
Resided latterly at Loughborough [Leicestershire], where he died Feb. 12, 1937. (Crockford; The Times, Feb. 15, 1937.)

• On the title pages of his books, Lockton lists himself as “Vice-principal and Lecturer in Mathematics, Winchester Diocesan Training College.”[7]

• In addition to his works on the Synoptic Gospels, Lockton wrote at least one more article and two books:

The Treatment of The Remains at the Eucharist after Holy Communion and The Time of the Ablutions, with an Appendix on Reservation and the Book of Common Prayer (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press and Macmillan, 1920).[8]

Divers Orders of Ministers: An Inquiry into the Origins and Early History of the Ministry in the Christian Church (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1930).

One might puzzle over how an Anglican priest and vice-principal of a diocesan training college could make such significant discoveries in the field of synoptic research. Lockton’s biography provides the answer: Lockton was highly educated in Scripture with B.A., M.A. and BD degrees from various colleges of Cambridge University, one of the two best universities in England in Lockton’s day. Perhaps Lockton’s training in mathematics also was key to coping with the “synoptic problem,” one of the most complex subjects in New Testament scholarship.

Special thanks to Stephen Branch and Barbara Chambers for their help in researching the biographical details of the life of William Lockton.

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David N. Bivin

David N. Bivin
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David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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