Some Thoughts About Q [Akin], not that annoying guy from**Star Trek*.

And not the gadget guy from James Bond.

In biblical scholarship, Q is a hypothetical source that both Matthew and Luke supposedly used.

The reason people talk about it is that there are about 235 verses in Matthew that are paralleled in Luke but not in Mark or John.

This is a significant number. Matthew has 1071 verses and Luke has 1151. If they both have 235 verses uniquely in common with each other then that’s quite a substantial portion of the two gospels—more than a fifth.

This is a significant enough portion that many have felt it isn’t due to random chance and there must be a reason.

One reason could be that Luke drew upon Matthew for these verses. Alternately, Matthew could have drawn upon Luke for them.

Today most scholars don’t think that either of these was the case, however. Instead, they think that Matthew and Luke wrote independently of each other, which would suggest a different source for this material.

In the 1800s, this source was dubbed “Q,” allegedly from the German wordQuelle(“source”), though this is unclear.

Today the most popular view among biblical scholars is that Matthew and Mark both drew upon two main sources in writing their Gospels—Mark and Q. This is known as the “two-source hypothesis.”

Although the Magisterium of the Church initially prohibited Catholic scholars from advocating this view, this was later changed, and, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and the head of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the two-source theory is “accepted today by almost everyone” (source).

What should we make of this view?

From one perspective—the perspective of faith—it doesn’t really matter much what the particular sources of the Gospels were. They are all inspired and give us accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ. That’s the important thing.

*How**they came to be is an interesting question that may shed light on some individual passages of Scripture, but it is not essential to the Christian Faith.

On the other hand, if you don’t share the perspective of faith then the question can be much more important. Some scholars, engaged in the “quest for the historical Jesus” think that the true, original Jesus has been obscured by layers of tradition and transformed into “the Christ of faith.”

For people of that perspective, it matters very much how the Gospels came to be, because all those layers of tradition need to be scraped away so that we can learn about the historical Jesus. For these folks, identifying the earliest possible sources is a matter of prime importance.

Not everybody takes this view, though. There are many advocates of Q who are thoroughly orthodox in their faith and who believe the Gospels as we have them are a reliable guide to the life and teachings of Christ.

In any event, an idea has to be judged by the evidence for or against it, not by how some of its advocates misuse it.

So what about Q?

What kind of source are we talking about?

The first question we need to ask is what kind of source Q is supposed to be.

Nobody doubts that the Evangelists used sources when they composed the Gospels. Two of the Evangelists—Mark and Luke—weren’t regarded, even in the early Church, as eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Theyhadto use sources, and Luke says as much in the prologue to his Gospel, writing:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they**were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word*, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed [Luke 1:1-4].

Here Luke indicates that his account is based on the things that “were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”—i.e., those who actually saw the events of Jesus’ life and ministryandthose who were authorized bearers of the traditions about Jesus. They were among his sources.

Could Q have been an oral source, derived from one of these eyewitnesses or ministers of the word?

It’s possible, but most scholars today don’t think so. The material in Q is rather extensive—at least the 235 verses paralleled in Matthew and Luke, and possibly more than that (depending on how much of Q each Evangelist left out). What’s more, the material has a narrative structure that proceeds from one event to another. And, if Matthew and Luke wrote independently of each other, it had to be accessible to both.

That’s a lot to ask of an oral source, and so most Q theorists today think that it was a document.

It is very likely that there were documents among Luke’s sources. Although he doesn’tsaythat he drew upon any, he notes that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative” of what Jesus did, and it is highly likely that he used one or more such documents.

Historically, most scholars thought that he used Matthew. Today, most scholars think that he used Mark. Some scholars even think that he used both.

It is therefore possible that he used a document like Q.

The question is: Did he?

Hypothetical vs. Lost

It is worth noting that Q is a hypothetical document. This is not the same thing as alostdocument.

We know about lots of documents in the ancient world that have been lost. In some cases, we may have a few quotations from them, preserved by other authors, but in other cases the entire work has vanished and all we know about it is the title, or even just the subject, and possibly its author.

We know about these things because the book is mentioned by one or more ancient authors. For example, several early Church Fathers mention a work calledAn Exposition of the Oracles of the Lordthat was written by Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis who lived in the first and second centuries.

Scholars wouldloveto have a complete copy of this work, but all we have are a few quotations from it preserved by later authors.

We see lost books referred to in the Bible. For example, St. Paul appears to mention several letters that have not survived (see 1 Cor. 5:9, 2:4, 7:8-9, Col. 4:16). Though the matter is debated, these letters appear to be lost, at least in their original forms.

But there is a difference between a lost document and a hypothetical document.

A lost document is one that weknowexisted. We have definite references to it.

A hypothetical document is one that wedon’t knowexisted. It’s a document that has been proposed even though wedon’thave references to it.

Q falls in the latter category, and so its existence is less certain than the various lost documents we know to have existed.

As we’ll see in a future post, there are further reasons to be skeptical that there ever was a Q document.


I am thinking that this is a typo and Luke was intended above.

So then, this would mean all the church fathers got it wrong on who wrote what and when. The proposal of Q takes a lot of faith.

Problems with the Q hypothesis.

1. No-one has ever seen Q
No-one has yet found even a fragment of Q.

2. No-one had ever heard of Q
No ancient author appears to have been aware of the existence of Q. One will search in vain for a single reference to it in ancient literature. For a while it was thought that ‘the logia’ to which Papias referred might be Q. Indeed, this was one of the planks on which the Q hypothesis rested in the nineteenth century. But no reputable scholar now believes this.

3. Occam’s Razor
The British medieval philosopher Occam suggested a fine working principle: that entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary. How then has Q escaped Occam’s razor?

Matthew was the only Apostle whose previous occupation required him to write daily accurate records. The Romans were not going to trust “their” money to just anyone. Matthew would have to have been trained and professional. As a writer who had just witnessed the greatest story ever seen or heard, and as an evangelist, par excellence, it is hard to imagine him to have not written down an account of the life of Christ. All of the early historical writings attest that he did so.

Writer Constant Fouard had affirmed that Matthew’s Gospel was the first one written. In Warren H. Carroll’s book THE FOUNDING OF CHRISTENDOM page 433, states:“Fouard, St. Peter, pp. 216-226. After a long period during which the very cogent arguments set forth by Fouard and other writers of his time were, for no particularly good reason, almost totally rejected by New Testament critics (even those thoroughly orthodox), the proposition that the Gospel of Matthew was after all written first, before any of the other gospels - as Church tradition had always maintained - is now being revived even by critics whose premises and methods are very different from those accepted herein. e.g., John Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia, 1976), pp. 92-99. See also a foreshadowing of this changed of view in Danielou and Marrou, Christian Centuries, I,25. For a brilliant summation of the linguistic arguments for an Aramaic original of St. Matthew’s Gospel, see John Chapman’s almost forgotten Matthew, Mark and Luke, a Study in the Order and Interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1937), pp.182-214; for a similar summation of the arguments for the Apostle Matthew’s of the Gospel which bears his name, see* ibid*., pp. 253-260. St. Jerome (De Viris Illustribus 3) says that the original version of Matthew’s Gospel, in “Hebrew,” was extant in his time, a copy being preserved in the library of the famous early Christian scholar Pamphilus (c. 300) at Caesarea in Palestine; and Eusebius ( Ecclesiastical History, V, 10) says a copy of the “Hebrew” Gospel of Matthew was taken to India by the Apostle Bartholomew and found there at the end of the second century by the Christian scholar and traveler Pantaenus. In his commentary on Eusebius’ Chronicle (Patrologia Latina XXVII, 577-578), Jerome dates the composition of the Gospel of Matthew to the last year of Gaius (40 A.D.), just one year before the date here proposed.”
Bartholomew, one of the twelve, must have known who wrote it. For it to have been written in his life time before he went to India, it must have been written relatively very early.

If Matthew based his writing on Mark, a non-Apostle, then Matthew was not written by the Apostle Matthew. Think about it. If you were writing a biography about your father would you be likely to feel the need to base it on someone who never knew your father personally ? It is much easier to believe that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew without the aid of Mark.
. a previous post, I looked at the hypothetical document Q, which most contemporary Bible scholars think was used by Matthew and Luke when they composed their Gospels.

The reason they think this is that there are 235 verses in Matthew that are paralleled in Luke but not in Mark or John.

The proposal is that there was a document in the early Church that contained (roughly) these 235 verses and that both Matthew and Luke copied from it.

That proposed document is commonly called Q.

Hypothetical vs. Lost

Previously, I pointed out that the Q document is not simply lost.

There are lots of documents from the ancient world that we know existed even though they are now lost. We can be confident that these works existed because the ancients talk about them in their surviving writings.

But Q is not in that category. We don’t have any ancient references to it. It isn’t just a *lost *document; it’s a hypothetical lost document. That means we must be more cautious about its existence than the lost documents that we know existed.

Here’s another reason we should be cautious . . .

A Unique Document?

If it existed, Q seems to have been a unique document. We are not aware of other documents of the same kind. In other words, Q does not fall into a recognized literary genre.

You will often hear the opposite. Specifically, you will hear that Q belongs to the same genre as the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, which was rediscovered in 1945 in Egypt and published in 1956.

The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings that are attributed to “the living Jesus.” A few of these involve a brief dialogue with another character, but there is no story—no narrative—to the Gospel of Thomas.

Many have claimed that Q belongs to the same genre as Thomas because a lot of the verses paralleled in Matthew and Luke are sayings of Jesus.

The difficulty is that, unlike the Gospel of Thomas, the hypothetical Q document is not simply a “sayings gospel.”

Narrative in a Sayings Gospel?

If it existed, Q included a large number of narrative elements. These are documented by Mark Goodacre in his book The Case Against Q (pp. 170-185).

There, he shows that the hypothetical Q would go beyond sayings and have a narrative structure as follows:

*]Q introduces John the Baptist, apparently before it introduces Jesus (Q 3:2), who is located in the region of the Jordan (Q 3:3; note: In contemporary scholarship, citations attributed to Q are based on the verses in Luke, so Q 3:2 is found in Luke 3:2).
*]There, people come to him to receive his baptism (Q 3:7) and John warns them to bear fruit befitting repentance (Q 3:8).
*]Then John begins contrasting himself and his baptism with the one who comes after him, who will have a greater baptism (Q 3:16-17).
*]Jesus is then introduced, there is a reference to the Spirit descending on him, and he is indicated to be God’s Son (Q 3:21-22).
*]The Spirit then takes Jesus to the wilderness (Q 4:1), where he is tested by the devil with regard to whether he is God’s Son (twice: “if you are the Son of God . . .” Q 4:3, 9).
*]Then Jesus goes to “Nazara” (Q 4:16).
*]Jesus then gives a major discourse (Q 6:20-49).
*]Q then notes that after Jesus finished these sayings he entered Capernaum (Q 7:1). This is a very clear indicator of narrative structure, particularly in an alleged sayings gospel.
*]We then have the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Q 7:3, 6-10).
*]Then John the Baptist hears what is going on with Jesus and, apparently unable to come himself, sends messengers to ask if Jesus is the one after all. Jesus responds by pointing to the many miracles he has done and his preaching of the good news and urges John not to disbelieve (Q 7:18-23).
*]When John’s disciples has left, Jesus speaks to the crowd, he reminds them of when they went out to see John (referenced earlier in Q), and he pays tribute to John (Q 7:24-28).
*]Afterward, Jesus pronounces woe on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for failing to respond to the wonders he did in them (Q 10:13-15).
[/LIST]Goodacre goes into more detail than we can here, but the point is made: This is a narrative; it’s a story. It’s not just a collection of Jesus’ sayings.

It has a geographical progression (Jordan, the wilderness, Nazara, Capernaum); it has elements pointing forward and backward (e.g., the early indication that Jesus is the one to come, followed by the later questioning of whether this is the case); there are narrative transitions between one unit and the next; and it contains at least one miracle account, while referring to many more being done.

It is only after this narrative sequence that Q would have been largely composed of sayings, and that places it in what seems to be a unique category: a work that would start as a narrative and then become a sayings collection.

How does that compare to other ancient sayings collections?

Actual Sayings Collections

There were sayings collections in the ancient world—and not just Thomas. Proverbs and Sirach spring readily to mind.

It is common for such collections to have a brief statement at the beginning about who originated the sayings, but in none of these cases is there a big narrative about that person.

Proverbs does not begin with a biography of Solomon but with the simple statement, “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Pr. 1:1).

Sirach does not begin with a biography of Sirach but is prefaced by a brief, non-narrative introduction by his grandson, who translated the book from Hebrew into Greek.

Thomas begins with the statement, “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.”

In none of these cases do we have anything like the lengthy, complex narrative that can be reconstructed from the Q material.

Ancient Judeo-Christian sayings collections appear to have been just that: sayings collections, not sayings collections preceded with an extensive narrative about the person from whom the sayings came.

More Caution on Q

If there was a Q document, it does not appear to have belonged to a known genre of Jewish or Christian writing from the time.

This means that we have extra reason to be cautious about whether it existed. Not only are we talking about a document that is lost and hypothetical, it is also of an otherwise unknown, unattested type.

It would be one thing to propose a lost document that fits a known type—which is why Q advocates frequently appeal to the Gospel of Thomas as a parallel, though the comparison does not hold up. It is another thing to propose a lost document that does not have any parallels in the relevant ancient literature.

We thus have another reason to be cautious about the existence of Q and another reason to look at alternative explanations of the 235 verses Matthew and Luke have in common—like the idea that one Evangelist use material from the other.


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