Monday, January 19, 2015

What Is The "Q" Source?

Question: What is the "Q" source? 

AP: This gospel is just a scientifically reconstructed Gospel. It’s a hypothetical document since no existing manuscript has been found thus far. Nevertheless, it’s a well founded hypothesis.

The "Q Source" refers to those passages in Matthew and Luke that match significantly (at times literally) and are not found in the Gospel of Mark, which Matthew and Mark copied as one of their sources.

These passages in Matthew and Luke, some of which are very long, look so similar that scholars think that such similarities were not the result of oral tradition. There must have been a Gospel already in existence that contained the “sayings of the Lord.” Matthew and Luke must have had this "Gospel" in front of them and they copied those parts that interested them.

But it should be noted that no manuscripts of that Gospel have been found. However, most New Testament scholars think it is highly probable that it existed and it is just mere coincidence that we have yet to find any manuscripts to confirm its existence.


TWH: Antonio gives a really good description about what the "Q" source is. Allow me to just offer a few thoughts concerning its nature and its value for New Testament studies.

This is a hypothetical document, just as Antonio said. Not one single manuscript to date has been found supporting its existence. In other words, some scholars believe it must have existed not because they have external evidence in favor of its existence, but because they are attempting to explain similarities/differences between the Synoptic Gospels. In doing so, they use internal evidence exclusively. Personally, I find the argument for Q (and all other hypothetical Gospel documents [e.g., L, M, etc.]) to be unconvincing.

"Q" is an attempt to explain the origins of the Gospels. I think the starting point is flawed. The general scholarly consensus today is that Mark wrote his Gospel first. The external evidence, however, favors Matthew's Gospel as the first. While there are a number of arguments given to prove Markan priority, let me just give you one:
Mark does not include the Sermon on the Mount, for example. It seems unlikely that Mark would cut out such a significant portion of Jesus' teaching. Rather, say those who favor Markan priority, it is more likely that Matthew wrote and expanded Mark's Gospel. 
The problem with such an argument is two-fold. First, the external evidence is clear: Matthew wrote first. Second, the external evidence tells us that Mark's Gospel is the collection of Peter's messages in Rome. Peter's purpose was not to give an exhaustive account of Jesus' teachings. Rather, he wanted to give people in Rome an energetic presentation of Jesus' life and ministry, paying special attention to the the wondrous works Jesus did. If that's the case, it would not be surprising for Peter to not include the Sermon on the Mount. The interest in "Q" is directly tied to the general scholarly consensus that Mark wrote first. Hopefully, in the years ahead, scholars will rethink whether or not the contents of the Gospels (similarities and dissimilarities) can be explained apart from any hypothetical documents. I think if they do, what they will end up finding is an explanation of the origins of the Gospels supported by external evidence, i.e., the writings of the early church.

If you want to see just how serious people are about the "Q" source, do a Google book or Amazon search on it. It's pretty amazing really. I mean there are whole commentaries written on this hypothetical document. I'm not sure how people know so much about something that has so little an imprint (in my opinion, zero) in the historical record.


  1. I fully agree with the last paragraph. I can hardly fathom how some scholars can obtain so much information from a completely hypothetical document that nobody has ever seen. At best, you can prepare a "hypothetical critical edition" of Q from Lk and Mt but that's all!

    Besides, Millard has pointed out that there were people in 1st century Israel whot can write and so they could record some Jesus's saying in wax tables but in an abridged form. This kind of written registers, together with oral traditions, it's what I think that we could call Q, but I also think that this type of Q should be behind the three Synoptic Gospels, and not only Mt and Lk.

    About Mk as a collection of Peter's messages or memories, I think that at this point I agree with Ehrman and the like that it's hard to accept that Peter had so little to say about Jesus. Nevertheless, if some critics are right when they argue that Irenaeus actually wrote in his anti-Marcionite prologue that the Gospel of Mark was written not after Peter's death but during his lifetime meanwhile he was out of Rome on an unrecorded travel, who knows...

    And here I would like to recall that Crossley (from internal evidence such as analysis of certain passages of the gospel and the detection by his mentor, the late Casey, of an original Aramaic that was literally translated into Greek) has developed the thesis that Mk was written well before the currently accepted date of ca. 70 A.C., maybe a date between late thirties or mid-forties A.C., which is a very impressive early date!

    1. J.P., once again thank you for your feedback. Regarding your point of agreement with Bart Ehrman, I think that argument doesn't fly simply because it assumes this was Peter's definitive declaration about the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. It wasn't such a series of messages, however. I think it is reasonable to think that Peter and other disciples would have been involved in the composition of Matthew's Gospel. Peter would have preached and taught about Jesus the rest of his life. We can't assume that length, in this case brevity, is evidence against Peter's connection to the composition of the Gospel. The external evidence supports his involvement, and I think we all-too-often discount the external evidence of the early church (especially in evangelical circles). If these were Peter's messages in Rome, then he would have been confined by external factors (e.g., the amount of time he had to teach and the number of occasions he was permitted to do so) as well as his own intentions in delivering these messages in Rome.

      Can I recommend a really interesting book? It's David Alan Black's Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. You can view it here: I gave a copy of this book to Antonio in October.

  2. Thanks for your recommendation, Thomas. As per the book description and some reviews I read, it sounds very interesting. And challenging! By the way, is it possible that D. Antonio publishes a review in his blog?

    Of course, I'm open to other possibilities, as I wrote above if the gospel was written during Peter's lifetime that gives some weight to the external evidence.

    Regarding Ehrman's opinion, it is based in Papias description of Mark. Of course, it's very different to talk about memories or lectures, as Black is proposing if I understood properly what I've read.

    Thanks again!

    1. J.P., I don't know if Antonio will write a review on his blog. It is a very short book. Remind me closer to July and I will try and bring you a copy. This is one of those books that I would really like to see translated into Spanish.

  3. Thanks for the offer but I see it is possible to obtain it from Spain at or through The book depository in England. But, alas!, I've exceeded my budget for books during this last Christmas (I always buy lots of books in this season, it's a good excuse) and my wife won't see with good eyes that I expend more money for the next months :) But soon or later I'll try to get it.

    The last book I've purchased is Blomberg's The historical reliability of the Gospels. Have you read it? I think I'll have a lot to think and discuss with myself and with the book when I read it.

    1. Hey, our wives do a good job of making sure we don't buy too many books. We'd be poor without our wives!