“Yeshua and Levi the Toll Collector” complex

& LOY Commentary 2 Comments

David Bivin and Joshua Tilton propose a reconstruction of Jesus' interaction with Levi the toll collector and his teaching in response to criticism that Jesus ate and drank with sinners.

An artist’s depiction of the Call of Levi story by William Hole. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Updated: 9-August-2017

While participating in a seminar on the Synoptic Gospels with David Flusser, Robert Lindsey noticed that there were important verbal and thematic links between the story of the toll collector whom Jesus called as his disciple (Luke 5:27-32) and the twin similes about how God rejoices whenever a sinner repents (Luke 15:1-10). Puzzled by the presence of the phrase οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν (“no need [they] have”), which appears in the Call of Levi story and in the Lost Sheep simile, it dawned upon Lindsey that the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes may originally have formed the conclusion of Jesus’ response to the criticism that he dined with toll collectors and sinners.

David Flusser (left) and Robert Lindsey (right) at a seminar on the Synoptic Gospels.

The realization that the Call of Levi story and the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes may once have formed a single literary unit was one of the most important breakthroughs Robert Lindsey ever achieved. This breakthrough gave rise to Lindsey’s hypothesis that at a stage of literary transmission prior to the composition of the Synoptic Gospels, many of the parables were for some reason separated from their original narrative contexts. Despite the fragmentation of the stories that resulted from the removal of parables from their original narrative settings, the component pieces of the complete stories were not necessarily lost, only reshuffled. This meant that it might be possible by means of careful literary and linguistic analysis to reconstruct the “complete” stories from the fragmentary remains that are scattered throughout the Gospels of Luke, Mark and Matthew.

In the “Yeshua and Levi the Toll Collector” complex we attempt to reconstruct the “complete” story of Levi’s call, the banquet Levi held in Jesus’ honor, the bemusement of the Pharisees over how a righteous man like Jesus could freely celebrate with sinners, and Jesus’ brilliant, humorous and compassionate response that when God recovers a lost sinner he wants all his friends to be there with him to celebrate.


Click on the following titles to view the Reconstruction and Commentary for each pericope in the “Yeshua and Levi the Toll Collector” complex.


Call of Levi (Newly Published!)


Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes (in preparation)



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David N. Bivin

David N. Bivin

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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Joshua N. Tilton

Joshua N. Tilton

Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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