Don’t Hate on Q [Akin]

#1, I’ve been doing a series of blog posts about how the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate to each other.

In biblical studies, this is known as the Synoptic Problem.

Today the most popular solution to this problem is known as the “Two-Source Hypothesis.”

According to this view, Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and it was used by both Matthew and Luke.

In addition, this view holds that Matthew and Luke also used a lost, hypothetical source known as Q.

Q and Me

Personally, I am a Q skeptic. That’s why I’ve written more than once about reasons to doubt the existence of Q.

I think that the data that advocates of Q appeal to likely can be explained in other, better ways.

Before resorting to hypothetical, lost documents to explain the fact that Matthew and Luke have a large number of verses in common, we should give serious consideration to the idea that Luke drew these verses from Matthew or that Matthew drew them from Luke.

Hating on Q

I’ve been surprised, in the comments boxes and on Facebook, at the amount of hostility that some folks have displayed toward the idea of Q.

For example, some have dismissed Q as “the claptrap of modernistic historical criticism” and declaring it “a diversion from the truth” and similar things.

But while disagreement with the Q hypothesis can be justified, outright hostility toward it is uncalled for.

The Basis for the Idea

The idea behind Q is that there was a source—likely a written source—behind the 235 verses in Matthew that are paralleled in Luke but not in Mark or John.

This is a large number of verses, and it amounts to more than a fifth of Matthew and Luke.

Given that amount of material in common—and the fact that the material is sometimes presented in the same order—it isn’t unreasonable to propose that there is a source behind this material.

In fact, we’ve already seen two such proposals: Matthew was Luke’s source for this material, or Luke was Matthew’s source for it.

Either of these possibilities would explain both the content of the material and the elements of common order that it displays.

But If . . .

But if one could show that both of these possibilities are unlikely for some reason then it would not be unreasonable to propose that there was a third source that both Matthew and Luke drew upon for the material.

Neither would it be unreasonable to propose that this source was written.

Luke even alludes to previous written accounts of Christ’s ministry (Luke 1:1).

Since he says that he wrote his own Gospel after “having followed all things closely for some time past”—with “all things” seeming to include the previous written accounts—it is very likely that Luke used such written sources.

Indeed, virtually everyone agrees that he either used Matthew or Mark as a source (possibly both), so there is no reason to be hostile to the idea that he used another such source.

A Lost Source?

Since we don’t have any manuscripts of Q today, if it ever existed, it has been lost.

But the idea of a lost source is not intrinsically problematic.

Indeed—all of the sources that the Evangelists used, whether written or oral, seem to have perished, leaving only the Gospels themselves.

An Objection

One could object that many of the people who advocate Q—including some of its earliest advocates—have tried to use the claim to undermine the authority of the Gospels.

This is true, but it does not ultimately matter.

The idea that there is a common source behind the 235 verses Matthew and Luke have in common does not do anything, of itself, to undermine the authority of the Gospels.

The Gospels are based on sources—as Luke acknowledges—and so the idea of sources behind them is not intrinsically threatening.

The proposal that a common source is behind these 235 verses is an idea that needs to be evaluated based on the evidence—not who proposed it or what their motives were.

Ad Hominem Arguments

Indeed, arguments that attack an idea based on who proposed it or what that person’s motives were—rather than evaluating the evidence for and against it—are known as ad hominem arguments (i.e., arguments “to the man” rather than to the evidence).

Such arguments are at high risk of committing a logical fallacy.

More generally, rejecting an idea because of where it came from risks committing the genetic fallacy.

A Better Way

A better way of approaching the question is to set aside these issues and look at the Q proposal objectively, weighing the evidence for and against it.

If you want to go after Q based on the evidence, have at it!

I do that myself!

In fact, here’s a book by Mark Goodacre that can help you do that

And here’s another

Faithful Q Scholars

While it may be true that some advocates of Q have an agenda of undermining the authority of the Gospels, they are by no means the only Q advocates out there.

There are also lots of biblical scholars who thoroughly uphold the authority of Scripture and who endorse the Q hypothesis.

Indeed, in a 2003 speech, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) addressed the Pontifical Biblical Commission and noted that the Two-Source Hypothesis (which proposes Q as one of the sources behind Matthew and Luke) is “accepted today by almost everyone” Relationship Between the Magisterium and Exegetes].

That “almost everyone” includes lots of faithful Catholic biblical scholars, as well as lots of non-Catholic ones who support the authority of the Gospels.

A Present Minority

Actually, the fact that Q-skeptics, such as myself, are a small minority today is something that provides us with another reason to keep the rhetoric cool.

If you want to get people to change their minds about Q, a calm, reasoned approach based on the evidence will get you a lot farther than just dumping on the view of the majority.

And there is another, even more fundamental reason to take this approach . . .

The Golden Rule

Majorities can often ill-treat minorities, and it’s certainly been the case that some advocates of Q have used inflammatory, insulting language regarding those who are skeptical of Q.

Indeed, if you read the books of Q skeptics, they point out the inflammatory language that has been used against them and their proposals.

Naturally, they don’t like being treated that way in print.

Fortunately, many of them—including many of the most effective Q skeptics—have resisted the temptation to answer in kind.

After all, didn’t Jesus say something about treating others the way that you would like to be treated?

That statement is found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, but it isn’t found in Mark or John.

Ironically, it’s part of the Q material!

And whether Q was a separate, written source or not—this saying of Christ is authoritative.



I really want to thank Jimmy for expressing his thoughts in a level-headed, civil manner.

I agree with his assessment: I see some Christians out there who do not agree with Q simply because of (1) its association (in their minds) with liberal theologians and skepticism about the gospels, and (2) the whole ‘defying authority’ mentality. (In other words, there are some people out there who just relish going against ‘the mainstream’ - “Look at how cool we are because we’re in the minority,” that sort of thing.) I’m also a Q skeptic myself, but to be frank, I find the whole ‘throw the baby with the bathwater’ mentality to be a rather shallow reason to hate on Q. I’d even bet that there are people within that crowd don’t even have a clear idea of what Q actually is: they just hate it because they’ve been told or have heard that it’s this evil, modernist propaganda to undermine traditional belief about Jesus that any sensible, God-fearing Christian should despise. (This is exactly the same thing as anti-Catholics who simply hate the Catholic Church without bothering to check out what it really is or people who simply say ‘religion is bad’ without even knowing the targets of their hate, I daresay.)

What complicates matters is that there are ‘Q haters’ out there (I’ve seen this in some circles of the 'net) who just go rabid and become incapable of rational discussion whenever the topic is brought up. Q is summarily shot down as somehow being ‘un-Christian’ (or whatever negative adjective you can think of) without a fair trial. It’s one thing to disagree with and question Q and point out the flaws in the theory; to become carried away by one’s own emotions and forcefully stifle any attempts at discussion is another.


Here is my opinion, which I am sure I might be thought of as one who hates on Q. Personally I don’t hate it for what it is. I do have problems with how the school of thought that Q comes from has shaken peoples faith and trust in the Bible by making the Bible sound like its full of contradictions, forgeries, deception by the authors, etc. I hear people say that those outside of that school of thought is somehow a minority. Minority how? Minority outside of the latest university trends or the minority within the age of Christianity? Are we considered a minority because we prefer the company of St. Thomas Aquinas, Cornelius a Lapide, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Anselm of Leon, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Bishop Richard Challoner, Fr. George Haydock, etc etc.? So following 1900 years of Christian thought makes us a minority somehow?

Also, do you really think that modern higher education and the curriculum has good Christian agendas these days? Is it not damaged and tainted by the cultural war of 2 very different philosophical views? And when it comes to higher criticism, its as if the goal is to exclude any idea of tradition. It takes a mindset of only approaching the Bible with human reasoning and nearly rejecting that it is a product of human and divine intervention. I am all for human reasoning when its based on facts, but not hypotheses that ignore or nearly reject the mystical side and run on human reasoning alone.

I think one problem that both sides makes is that we label one another and generalize each other with the extremists on both sides. Which is a typical political tactic of identifying a group by the most radical freaks within a group.

I don’t hate Q and the school of thought that it comes from, but I have a distaste for a portion of it and I took the time with an open mind to study it, in which I eventually rejected.


Very well put. I know I said this once, but I really respect your opinions and knowledge about the Fathers. Keep up the good work. :slight_smile:

I’ll be honest. Part of the reason why I seriously considered stopping from posting here anymore is the attitude I’ve seen from some people out there (no, not you guys - thankfully most of the people are better here :D), where just mentioning anything associated with modern scholarship is taboo and ‘scholars’ is treated like the n-word, where ‘modern scholarship’ is almost always overgeneralized as something that’s always antagonistic to traditional Christian belief; even if it isn’t stated directly you kinda get this feeling that beneath the lines you’re automatically considered to be a heretic in league with the devil or something along those lines. How can the problem be rectified if nobody ever cares to listen? So yeah, to be frank I got fed up with that - hence, I ain’t gonna do no speaking no more. (Well, I don’t know - honestly with my opinions I feel like a stranger, not totally belonging to one side or the other. It’s very exhausting being caught in the middle between two enemy lines that fire at each other. :p)

In a perfect world IMHO you will have a balance - where the opinions of modern scholars coexist side-by-side with the Fathers, with both being on equal footing. That’s where I agree with you actually: I’m also very dissatisfied with the ‘reject anything un-modern’/‘reject anything blatantly ‘Christian’’ mindset prevalent in segments of modern academia. Ironically the moment I really felt this was when I was reading up on Hinduism. Modern Indians and more recent academics also complain about 19th-early 20th century Western scholars rejecting traditional Indian thought concerning Hindu literature like the Vedas or the Bhagavad Gita and insisting on applying only Western critical methods on them. So if Indian thought can have a say on Indian literature, why not Christianity with its own sacred books?


There is scholarship and there is scholarship.

A lot of “modern scholars” go a long way to try to undermine the Gospels. One way is to “prove” that they were written after the Jewish Revolt- the later the better.

But there is nothing intrinsic to the first five books of the New Testament that comes even close to suggesting they were written after A.D. 66. These “scholars” have to resort to mangling the translations of Greek words and pointing out “similarities” to documents written much later and other acts of rhetorical desperation.

I am not sure anything is gained giving them any credibility.


Patrick, im sorry if I ever made you feel that way, I never meant to for sure. I totally understand how you feel, because I spent time on Quora and eventually had to quit because it is loaded with atheists who belittles and mocks Christians and Christianity continuously.

I think sometimes us traditionalists get a little defensive because we often get the sense from non-traditional scholars they are looking down their noses at us with arrogance and assuming we are close-minded and choosing to stay dumb. I never got that feeling from you, but i get that vibe often from those kinds of scholars.


I actually check how people of other faiths are from time to time - to be fair, what I actually found is not too different from what’s happening within Christianity. I didn’t so much lose faith in God as I did in human beings. Seriously, everywhere I turn all I see is people fighting and even killing each other for what is relatively petty stuff. Yeah, sorry, after six to seven years, I’ve become a bitter old cynic. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think sometimes us traditionalists get a little defensive because we often get the sense from non-traditional scholars they are looking down their noses at us with arrogance and assuming we are close-minded and choosing to stay dumb. I never got that feeling from you, but i get that vibe often from those kinds of scholars.

To be honest I think the stereotyping happens on both sides. On the one hand, you have ‘liberal’ people who act as if Christians had actually been believing backward fairy tales for 1,900 years until all those good ol’ ‘rational’ scholars :rolleyes: showed us the light, and that everyone who tries to cling to traditional beliefs that have been ‘disproven’ by these academics are (as you say) either ‘close-minded’ ignoramuses or greedy opportunists who continue to manipulate gullible people by feeding them such ‘fairy tales’. On the other hand, you have ‘conservative’ people who seem to have this mental picture of ‘modern science’ being a tool of the Devil, with modern scholars and people who (in extreme cases - I’m exaggerating, yes) even mention their name being Satan’s bedfellows who can only spout heresy and attacks against Christianity. Ultimately on both sides I see the same ‘You’re an idiot; I’m holier/smarter than you’ attitude. That’s why I’m pretty much annoyed with people - no matter what side of the spectrum they fall into - who fall prey to this; at the same time, I’m well aware that maybe I’m falling prey into this myself, and I’m seeking a way to correct this.

What I originally wanted to show people was well, modern scholars (well, many of them at least - I’m not disputing that there are scholars with an agenda out there) are not these evil monsters actively out to destroy Christianity and not all modern studies about the Bible, Jesus or Christian origins are actually a threat to traditional beliefs - in some cases they can even be interpreted as reinforcing them. But I don’t think anybody was listening, so I practically gave up. I’m sure somebody else will do the job. (I guess my fault here is that I was too young and idealistic. Well, now I’m old (if 22 years is ‘old’), disillusioned, and cranky. :D)

I’ll be honest with you: getting defensive and retreating inward is probably not the best way to confront this problem. If people are using modern research to bash Christianity, why not use the same weapon (and more besides - the Fathers, for instance) against them?


I totally agree that many scholars are not monsters out to kill Christianity. On the other hand I do feel that academia has placed an agenda in the curriculum and placed an unwritten rule that has expectations that make it very hard to impossible for people to advance and get support and funding and avoid mocking and ridicule in the scholarly world unless they comply with the agenda. Its very similar to the scientific world where political agendas have made it impossible for a scientist to get any much needed funding unless they cooperate with the agenda.


This is from Dom Orchard.

I truly enjoyed reading it.

In an too short of an explanation: Luke and Paul took their Gospel to Peter. Peter took out Matthew’s Gospel. Examined Luke along side of Matthew, and Mark wrote out Peter’s thoughts.

Then Mark’s was published and got out to the Churches before Luke’s, even though Luke wrote before Mark.


This is the so-called Griesbach (aka two-gospel) hypothesis. I believe Jimmy tackled it a bit in another blog post of his. (Just search for the term.)


Problems with Q:

  1. If this “source document” was so crucial and such an utterly trusted source, why is there neither specific mention, nor attribution. And, how then do you account for the clearly human variations in the synoptics? Having interviewed thousands of witnesses over almost three decades, this variation is normal, expected and an acceptable product of differences in human perception.
  2. Moderns are attempting to reverse engineer the sacred. To an extent, it seems as if “some” are rotating a modern template over ancient history until an acceptable fit is obtained. The theory of entropy applies to intellectual matter as much as to the physical.
  3. Ockham’s razor.
  4. All human activity is influenced by, if not driven by a spirit. Spirits are invisible, normally imperceptible, yet very powerful over man’s thoughts and actions. Q “tends” to de-construct Tradition, if not the scriptures themselves, regardless of its original intent. To me, this smacks of worldly spiritual influence.
  5. The theory popped up very suddenly on the face of this earth.

I am nothing more than an ignorant with a keyboard, but something in Q’s DNA has an odor about it.


I think we need links to all of Jimmy’s posts about the subject. :smiley:


His comments about “lost, hypothetical documents” reminds me of the contemporaneous 19th century American theory of “reformed Egyptian” - also “lost.” What was it about that time and that geography that produced so much dissension and wildly divergent religious beliefs from a Christian foundation?

To quote from our Lord’s parable of the wheat and tares, “An enemy has done this”


I’ll agree with you on one thing: the 19th century was a pretty oddball century. That was the time when people looked for every pagan religion to find the origins of Jesus’ teachings and Christianity. Judaism was not considered by these scholars - in fact, attempts were made to strip Jesus and Christianity of anything that connects it with Judaism - because we all know the Jews were this legalistic people who served a God of vengeance and taught fire and brimstone, a far cry from Jesus’ superior message of love and forgiveness. Obviously Jesus couldn’t have been influenced by such backward ideas. :rolleyes:

In other words, there was this anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic air underlying much of pre-mid-20th century historical Jesus scholarship. And here’s the rub: many of the well known scholars at that time were Germans, usually of Lutheran origin. Now, I’m not saying all Germans or Lutherans then and now were anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish, but I do think that Luther’s interpretation of Paul’s ‘works of the Law’ vs. Faith’ and his anti-Jewish rhetoric did help the development of antisemitism in Germany. Plus, there’s this whole thing at the time about creating a national ‘German Christianity’ that was suited for the German people - purged of anything seen as un-beneficial to Germans (say, those Jewish elements). Combine those with the racial theories being developed at that time and you’ll get an idea why these scholars left Jews out. So I agree: that segment of 19th century German biblical scholarship was messy. An Enemy could have done that, but then again, humans are already pretty messed up to begin with that I doubt he had to do anything major.


My problem with the Q hypothesis is that there is absolutely no historical or archeological basis for it. It doesn’t exist as far as anyone knows. Surely if there was a document out there so important that it directly resulted in the writings of 3 of our 4 Gospels, someone from the early Church would have mentioned it.


That’s true, though I think a slightly more accurate way to phrase it is “we have no ancient attestation for Q.” But then again, just because a Q-like document isn’t mentioned in ancient sources does not preclude the possibility of that one may have existed (that would be an argument from silence); after all, we’ve found a few gospel-like texts which are previously unknown because they are not referenced or mentioned at all in early Christian writings, such as the Egerton Gospel (which bears some resemblance with John’s gospel).

I’m a Q skeptic like Jimmy and I’m sure many people here, but this guy here, Daniel Wallace, does bring up a number of good points.


Slightly less than random thoughts: Spirits wait to lead minds which are open to innovation, and which suppress or disregard the Sacred Tradition.

Why was Paul’s letter to Onesimus (for example) retained at a price of blood, yet “Q” was simply allowed to decompose into dust?

Why does man’s ego lead him to believe that, the farther away he is from an event, the more he knows about it?

Evidence leads in two directions: toward the truth and away from it.

Q will fall out of favor more quickly than it fell into it.

But, it will never lack for true believers.


Good points but I just can’t get behind them. Even the gnostics preserved their heretical teachings in writing with their many “Gospels.” If there was an earlier document which all was based upon, I’m almost certain the early Church would have moved heaven and hell to preserve it.


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