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The Case For and Against Q

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*Note: I listed online resources about Q here and added further posts with references to the scholarly literature here, here, here, and here.

In the Two Source Hypothesis, Matthew and Luke relied on Mark’s narrative for the “triple tradition” in all three Gospels and a hypothetical “source” called Quelle (the German term for source) comprised mostly of sayings for the “double tradition” shared by Matthew and Luke. Scholars posited a lost sayings source behind Matthew and Luke, as opposed to Luke just copying the sayings and a few anecdotes directly from Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. Farrer Hypothesis), and offered several reasons for the independence of Matthew and Luke from each other. Since a number of passages in the double tradition are near verbatim in Greek, it is unlikely that Matthew and Luke drew independently from memory or oral tradition or independently translated Aramaic sources. Either one Gospel writer knows the other or, if they are independent, a common Greek source(s) must be in the background for all or at least some of the material. Here is the case for and against “Q”:

Lack of Matthew’s Additions to Mark

Luke often skips over and, to some scholars, appears to be unaware of the editorial changes that Matthew makes to the text of Mark’s Gospel. Here are some examples:

  • Matt 3:14-15 – the dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist.
  • Matt 9:13 – a quote from Hosea to justify fellowship with tax collectors and sinners
  • Matt 12:5-7 – additional justifications for Jesus’ Sabbath practices based on the actions of the temple priests and the Hosea quotation
  • Matt 13:14-17 – Isaiah proof-text to explain why the crowd ‘s incomprehension
  • Matt 14:28-31 – Peter walks on water [Luke omits Jesus walking on water entirely]
  • Matt 16:2-3 – Pharisees can read the signs of the weather but not of the times.
  • Matt 16:16-19 – imparting on Peter blessing and keys to the kingdom
  • Matt 19:12 – becoming a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom
  • Matt 19:9 – exception to the divorce prohibition [Luke omits Mark’s section on divorce entirely]
  • Matt 27:19, 24 – Jesus’ innocence in Pilate’s wife’s dream and Pilate washing his hands
  • Matt 28:9 – Jesus meets the women on route to relaying the angel’s message.

On the other hand, there is considerable overlap between larger elements in Matthew and Luke such as adding birth narratives and teaching discourses. The number of minor and major agreements between Matthew and Luke noted below could be taken to suggest that Luke did follow some of Matthew’s changes to Mark. Farrer theorists stress that Luke generally preferred to follow the text of Mark as the principle source and provide theological reasons for why Luke chose to skip over some of Matthew’s editorial additions.

Lack of Matthew’s Distinctive Material (“M”)

“M” and “L” are used to designate the distinctive material in Matthew alone or Luke alone. However, Two Source theorists wonder why Luke would not reproduce the following “M” episodes if he was aware of that Gospel:

  • The Nativity (genealogy, Joseph’s dream, Immanuel, star, magi, tragedy of Bethlehem, flight to Egypt)  (chapters 1-2)
  • The healing of two blind persons and a mute one (9:27-34)
  • The call to take on Jesus’ yoke and find rest (11:28-30)
  • The scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven (13:51-52)
  • The parables of the wheat and tares, hidden treasure, fine pearl, good and bad fish, maidens’ lamps, unmerciful servant, workers in the vineyard, two sons, wedding garments, ten virgins, and sheep separated from goats (13:24-30; 13:44-50; 21:28-31; 25:1-13, 31-40; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:28-32; 22:11-14; 25:1-13, 31-46)
  • Plants that the Father has not planted will be uprooted (15:13)
  • Paying the Temple Tax with a coin from a fishes mouth (17:24-27)
  • Rules for how to regulate disputes in the church (18:15-20)
  • Judas’ death by hanging (27:3-10)
  • The earthquake and the risen saints (27:51b-53)
  • The Great Commission on a mountain (28:16-20).

Farrer theorists object that this point presumes the Two Source Hypothesis since “M”, by definition, is material only in Matthew’s Gospel. The “double tradition” and the major or minor agreements may show that Luke did include some material from Matthew not in Mark. Indeed, some Farrer proponents contend that there is evidence in the double tradition that Luke repeated some of Matthew’s characteristic terminology or themes or displayed other signs of editing Matthew’s text (e.g. Goulder, Goodacre on “literary fatigue”). As for the list above, they offer theological reasons for Luke’s omission or drastic re-writing of them (e.g. the Nativity in Luke 1-2, Judas’s death in Acts 1:17-20, or the commission in Luke 24:46-49).

Lack of Agreement When Departing From Mark’s Order

Here are a couple of Synopsis where one can compare the order of the material in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The independence of Matthew and Luke could be supported by how they often disagree when one of them relocates an episode in Mark to another point in the narrative. Matthew switches the healing of the leper (Mt 8:14-7; Mk 1:40-5) and Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-7; Mk 1:29-34), relocates the calming of the storm followed by two demoniacs (Mt 8:23-34; Mk 4:36-5:20) and the healing of Jairus’ daughter as well as hemorrhaging woman (Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:22-43), has Jesus designate the “Twelve” later in the narrative (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-9), and moves back predictions of persecution (Mt 10:17-23; Mk 13:9-13). Luke moves John’s imprisonment (Lk 3:19-20; Mk 6:17-8) and the Nazarene synagogue (Lk 4:16-30; Mk 6:1-6) and the woman anointing Jesus (Lk 7:36-50; Mk 14:3-9) forward in the narrative, moves the call of the first disciples (Lk 5:1-11; Mk 1:16-20) and Jesus’ true family (Lk 8:19-21; Mk 3:31-5) back in the narrative, switches the crowds following Jesus and the designation of the Twelve (Lk 6:12-19; Mk 3:7-19), and puts the saying about Jesus as one who serves at the Last Supper (Lk 22:24-7; Mk 10:45).

Farrer theorists might respond that Luke wished to largely remain faithful to the order of his principle source Mark rather than follow Matthew’s alterations, but Luke also had good theological reasons for making his own theological re-arrangements of Mark. For example, Luke removes John the Baptist to not leave the impression that he is superior to Jesus by baptizing him, sets the inaugural scene at Nazareth to establish many central themes of the Gospel, and only has the disciples start following Jesus after he has built his teaching reputation. The prologue in Luke 1:1-4 suggests that the evangelist believed he presented an orderly account in contrast to his predecessors, whether “order” reflects a chronological or a literary/rhetorical arrangement.

Alternating Primitivity

The form of the double tradition seems more primitive at times in Matthew and other times in Luke. In the Two Source Hypothesis, either Matthew or Luke stick closer to the original wording of “Q” in copying specific passages. For example:

  • Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4): did Matthew lengthen or Luke abbreviate the prayer and was “debts” (Matthew) or “sins” (Luke) the original wording?
  • Beatitudes (Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20): did Matthew spiritualize the blessing or Luke abbreviate Matthew’s beatitude out of concern for the poor?
  • Finger or Spirit of God (Matt 12:28; Luke 11:20):  would Luke avoid a reference to the Spirit in his source given the Pneumatology (study of the Spirit) in Luke-Acts or would Luke change the wording to “finger of God” in order to link Jesus with Moses (Exodus 8:19; 31:18)?
  • Wisdom Christology (Matt 11:19; 23:34-35; Luke 7:35; 11:49): does Matthew change the source that views Jesus as a child of Lady Wisdom because Matthew wanted to identify Jesus as the embodiment of Wisdom (see also Matthew 11:28-30; Sirach 51:25-26) or was Luke not partial to the Wisdom Christology of his source?
  • Sign of Jonah (Matt 13:14; Luke 11:30): did Matthew expand an original sign about preaching that ought to lead to repentance into one about his death and resurrection or did Luke abbreviate Matthew?

Some Farrer theorists argue that Matthew is the creative originator of all the additional material not found in Mark, so Luke’s version of this material must necessarily be secondary even when it does not appear to be (e.g.  Goulder). Other Farrer theorists allow that Luke at times has a more primitive form of this material because the author was familiar with an alternate oral version of a saying in addition to Matthew’s Gospel (e.g. Goodacre on the Lord’s Prayer).

The Different Order of the Double Tradition

In the Two Source Hypothesis, Luke basically stuck to Q’s order and reproduced its content in two blocks in 6:20-8:3 and 9:51-18:15 (exceptions include 3:1-4:6 and 19:11-27). Thus, Luke alternates between using his sources, Mark and Q, one at a time. Matthew more often integrates Q sayings into Mark’s framework and organizes them into five thematic discourses that end with summary statements (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Of course, there are parts of Q in other sections (e.g. Matt 3-4; 8:5-13; 8:19-22; 9:37-38; 11:2-27; 12:22-45; 22:1-10) as well as material from Mark or “M” in these five discourses. In the Farrer Hypothesis, Luke alternates between using the text of Mark or of Matthew as the exclusive source in different sections of the Gospel.

Yet if Luke used Matthew, he shortened Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 into the “Sermon on the Plains” in Luke 6:20-49 and scattered the rest in chapters 11-16. Further, Luke generally re-arranged the additional material that he took over from Matthew’s Gospel and relocated it to new literary contexts such as the instructions for missionaries (Matt 10:10, 12-16; Luke 10:3-11), the disciples’ privilege in what they see and hear (Matt 13:16-17; Luke 10:23-24), the parable of the lost sheep (Matt 18:12-13; Luke 15:4-5), the prediction about sitting on (twelve) thrones (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30), or the oracles of eschatological judgement (Matt 24:26-28, 37-41; Luke 17:23-24, 26-37).

Farrer theorists respond that Luke had kept Matthew’s additions to Mark in their same Markan context in some major agreements listed below. They also note that Matthew and Luke may draw on the same Markan text in locating the Sermon on the Mount/Plains (see Francis Watson, Gospel Writing, 151-155). The burden of their case is to explain why Luke’s relocations of Matthew’s material makes good literary or theological sense. The argument may be that Luke chooses to break up lengthy discourses in both Matthew and Mark. Or, by moving Matthew’s sayings to new contexts, Luke forges new links such as supplementing the beatitudes on the poor and lowly with the woes to the rich (Luke 6:20-26) or the Lord’s prayer with parables about persisting in prayer (Luke 11:1-13).

The Distinct Profile of Q

Although some scholars believe that the “double tradition” derives from a mixture of oral and written sources in Aramaic and Greek, many Q specialists insist that Q has a distinct literary and theological profile that differs from both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. For instance, some scholars categorize it as a wisdom collection that does not yet directly identify Jesus with Lady Wisdom and that emphasizes that Jesus will be the last in the line of rejected prophets in this unrepentant generation without assigning any salvific function to Jesus’ death (cf. Tuckett, Kloppenborg, Arnal, etc.). For Farrer theorists, “Q” is the material that Luke extracted from Matthew that he was positively disposed to, so it is not a surprise that its themes stand out from the material that Luke did not take over from Matthew (“M”) nor from Luke’s own distinctive material (“L”). Nevertheless, some of it does accord with Luke’s theological interests; for instance, Luke does not often interpret Jesus’ death vicariously (e.g. omits Mark 10:45 and ascribes this understanding of Jesus’ death to Paul in Acts 20:28) and the book of Acts express a Deuteronomistic theology in which the persecution of the prophets culminated in the death of the Righteous One (Acts 7:52).

Minor Agreements against Mark

If Matthew and Luke independently used Mark, any agreements that they make to Mark should be entirely coincidental. However, there are literally hundreds of minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark; virtually every episode in the triple tradition has them. Many examples are trivial, but some create an issue for the presumed independence of Luke from Matthew:

  • Jesus is moved with “anger” (or “compassion”) at the request of the leper to make him clean (Mark 1:40-42), but the emotion is omitted in Matthew 8:2-3 and Luke 5:12-3.
  • Matthew 4:13 and Luke 4:16 agree on the rare spelling Nazara
  • The Sabbath is made for humankind in Mark 2:27, but this line is omitted in Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5.
  • The disciples are given the mystery of the kingdom in Mark 4:11, but the mysteries of the kingdom to know in Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10.
  • Jesus rise in three days in Mark 8:31, but on the third day in Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22.
  • Jesus directly answers the high priest directly in Mark 14:62, but Matthew 26:64 and Luke 26:70 have the more equivocal “you say.”
  • The guards mock Jesus to prophesy in Mark 14:65, but they specify to prophesy “who hit you” in Matthew 26:67-8 and Luke 22:64.

For a full list of minor agreements and explanations for how they are accounted for in the Two Source Hypothesis, see Frans Neirynck, The Minor Agreements of Matthew and Luke Against Mark with a Cumulative List. Two Source theorists are forced to explain them away based on the following options:

  • Matthew and Luke had access to an earlier form of Mark (“proto-Mark”) that had these readings and it is the canonical edition of Mark that changed them.
  • Matthew and Luke happened to make the same common-sense changes to Mark’s grammatical or stylistic errors.
  • Matthew and Luke co-incidentally made similar changes in updating or correcting an earlier theological statement in Mark.
  • Luke was independent of the text of Matthew, but in touch with an oral tradition that had been influenced by Matthew or vice-versa.
  • Later scribes harmonize the texts of Matthew and Luke.
  • Luke mainly relied on Q and Mark, but may have had minimal contact with Matthew to explain some of Matthew’s subsidiary influence.

Major Agreements against Mark or Mark-Q Overlaps

There are times that Matthew and Luke agree to a larger extent against Mark such as the narratives about the baptism (Mark 1:4-11; Matt 3:1-17; Luke 3:1-23), wilderness testing (Mark 1:12-13; Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), and the charge of being in league with Beelzebub (Mark 3:23-30; Matt 12:25-32; Luke 11:17-23 + 12:10). For instance, Matthew and Luke agree that John castigated certain people as vipers, warned them to not suppose they will escape judgment by appealing to their descent from Abraham, and predicted a coming one who baptizes with water and fire. Mark follows this with Jesus’ confrontation with Satan and wild animals in the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke do not feature wild animals and agree on the three temptations despite differing on their order. Two Source theorists appeal to “Mark-Q” overlaps, meaning that Mark and Q narrate some of the same stories or sayings even though Mark and Luke generally locate them in different contexts after Matthew 4:13 and Luke 4:16. Note also that some of the major agreements involve doublets in which, so the theory goes, Matthew cites a saying about a sign in 16:1-4 (cf. Mark 8:11-12) and 12:38-40 (cf. Luke 11:29-30) and about divorce in 19:3-9 (cf. Mark 10:2-12) and 5:31-32 (cf. Luke 16:18) which presumably derive from Mark and Q respectively. However, Farrer theorists respond that the simpler explanation for these major agreements against Mark is that, in these examples, Luke is exclusively following Matthew’s Gospel as the source rather than Mark’s Gospel. Also, some Two Source theorists try to account for the overlaps by arguing for Mark’s dependence on Q or vice-versa, but that creates new complications about why Mark did not reproduce more of Q’s content or vice-versa.


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