Posted in: Bible

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Q

Copyright 2002 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

Some skeptics discount the historical reliability of the New Testament gospels by arguing that the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we possess are late derivatives. Our New Testament gospels, they say, come from quite different originals that never postulated a Jesus who was the miracle-working, Son of God, Messiah, God-manifest-in-the-flesh Savior who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again bodily.

These skeptics point to a curious document named Q to support their arguments.[1] One skeptic, Earl Doherty, includes a strong dependence on Q in his attempted refutation of the best-selling Christian book The Case for Christ[2] by former legal affairs journalist Lee Strobel. Doherty’s book, Challenging the Verdict[3], is full of misstatements, misinterpretations, faulty logic, and factual errors. His assumptions about Q are typical of those broached by many skeptics and are presented in a popular format, easily accessible by a lay reader.

Doherty appears to be an amateur in the field of New Testament scholarship. There are genuine New Testament scholars who embrace the Q document hypothesis and their arguments are correspondingly more comprehensive, complex, and formidable.

We have chosen Doherty as a foil for investigating the mysterious Q for two reasons. First, Q has become an elementary, foundational presupposition in liberal New Testament studies and as such finds its way into articles and books in the mainstream press written for popular consumption. Second, the fundamental presuppositions and textual errors culminating in a reliance on Q are easier to see in Doherty and other amateurs than in the scholarly writings, although the errors are essentially the same.

The Jesus Seminar is one of the most radically liberal of New Testament study groups. Although its coverage in the mainstream press might lead people to think it represents the bulk of New Testament scholarship, it does not. Philip Jenkins, the Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, observes that the members of the Jesus Seminar represent a small group of scholars from a narrow perspective:

The localized quality of such work is evident by observing the Jesus Seminar, which the media all too often represent as the organized voice of cutting edge New Testament scholarship. In fact, this portrayal is misleading, since the group never claims to have involved more than 200 scholars, and the number of active participants is usually far less, around twenty or thirty. This is minuscule compared with the several thousand members of the mainstream Society of Biblical Literature, or the more internationally oriented Society for New Testament Studies. Moreover, the Seminar’s core group is strongly identified with a handful of institutions, to the total exclusion of many other major universities and seminaries in which important (though less instantly newsworthy) work is being done.[4]

One of the more prominent members of the Jesus Seminar, author Mahlon H. Smith, appreciates the importance his group enjoys in the popular press, and in particular the resulting importance of the issue of Q in the popular press, since it is a key principle of the Jesus Seminar. He predicts,

The future of Q will be decided by the current public debate. Since the question of Q’s canonical status has shifted from classrooms and scholarly journals to the marketplace, it can no longer be viewed as just an academic theory that is a matter of private opinion. It is as much a scientific description of phenomena that confront average people every day as Galileo’s solar system, Newton’s gravity, Darwin’s evolution or Einstein’s relativity. Whether the Q hypothesis, like these, comes to be generally accepted as the most plausible explanation of observable facts or is rejected as arcane speculation depends on public demonstration that it is generally accepted by most experts, and that it works better than other theories.[5]

But is Q actually of the same status as the canonical New Testament, or of a scientific certainty like Newton’s gravity? In fact, the truth is not nearly so settled, and neither Smith nor Doherty have presented a fair picture of the Q hypothesis.

The Source of the Q Hypothesis

In The Case for Christ Christian author Strobel interviews a number of New Testament scholars regarding issues of New Testament reliability and historicity. One scholar he interviews about the gospels is New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg. Doherty, in his critique of Strobel’s book, disclaims Blomberg’s case for the historical reliability of the Gospels. He does this in part by an appeal to the contents of Q. He says Q is the earliest written collection of Jesus’s sayings, a collection in existence before any of the gospels and from which the gospels borrowed and elaborated.

This collection is called Q from the German word “Quelle,” or “Source.”[6] Liberal New Testament scholars who embrace this hypothesis claims it is the source document from which Matthew and Luke each borrowed what they did not derive from Mark.[7]

If Q exists, according to its most popular form, it would be a document that (1) predates all the gospels; (2) is the source from which the gospels derive; and (3) makes no presumptions about Jesus (the Messiah, the Son of God, a miracle worker, God manifest in the flesh, the Savior of the world, one who was killed and then resurrected).[8]

The Missing Q Foundation

Despite Doherty’s dependence on Q, we have no copies of Q, no copies of portions of Q, no references to Q in any of the early Christian writings, no references to Q in any of the early non-Christian writings, no references to Q in any of the gospels or the writings of Paul or the other letters; in fact, no conclusive evidence whatsoever that Q ever existed.[9]

Blomberg carefully stated the tenuous nature of the assumptions about Q in The Case for Christ:

It’s nothing more than a hypothesis. . . . With few exceptions, it’s just sayings or teachings of Jesus, which once may have formed an independent, separate document. You see, it was a common literary genre to collect the sayings of respected teachers, sort of as we compile the top music of a singer and put it into a “best of” album. Q may have been something like that. At least that’s the theory (26).

Doherty quotes selectively from Blomberg at this point (Doherty, 12-14). He surrounds the quotes with his own faith in the actual existence of Q, leaving out Blomberg’s classification of Q as “nothing more than a hypothesis.”

Doherty’s readers are bound to conclude that Q actually existed and that we must have far more evidence for it than we do for the gospels. Doherty, who bills himself as a hard-nosed empirical skeptic, evidently believes in Q, but not in the trustworthiness of the gospels.

Doherty treats Q as a significant historical find that contradicts and nullifies the claims of the gospels. He says things like “This Q document would obviously have been a very early piece of writing,” “features [that are] missing in Q,” “Q includes nothing like this,” “it [Q] talks about . . . .”, “This term never appears in Q,” “it is clear from the contents of Q,” “Q was a document that was added to and revised over time,” “In the latest version of Q used by Matthew and Luke,” “Perhaps he [the apostle John] was unfamiliar with the Q traditions” (12-14); and “We might add Q, although as a collection of sayings it was not really an ‘account’” (26).

Doherty admits uncertainty about Q only once in his entire book, and even here he marshals that ubiquitous but anonymous term “most scholars,” which handily supports his bias without his defining what he means by “most scholars: “The common material between Matthew and Luke which Mark lacks, and which most scholars designate as a written collection they call Q, might be said to provide a second source, but the uncertainties about Q and its evolution, and the fact that we don’t actually possess a copy of it, make it a shaky basis on which to claim any bedrock reliance in our traditions about Jesus – if the Q document even goes back to such a figure” (85).

His other references to Q return to his dogmatic acceptance of its authenticity: “One saying in Q. . . . Q sayings are numbered according to their chapter and verse locations in Luke, who is judged to have more closely preserved the original Q order than Matthew” (239-240); “A death for Jesus is notably missing in a number of Q sayings,” “similar to the oldest layer of sayings in Q,” “That earliest layer of sayings common to Q and Thomas,” “the earliest stratum of Q,” and “Galilee, the area where the Q document took shape” (240); and “the background of the Q community” (242).

At other points in Doherty’s book he confidently claims things like, “both evangelists derived them from Q” (31); “The early content of Q, containing some of the most prized teachings of Christianity . . . bears remarkable similarity to the preaching of the Greek Cynic movement of the time” (108); “It is true they drew upon Q as well, but Q contained nothing about a trial, death and resurrection for Jesus” (164); “If you accept the existence of the document Q . . . . There is no trace of a resurrection in Q. There is not even a mention of Jesus’ death, despite Q’s fixation on the idea of killing the prophets. Q’s Jesus figure has no redemptive significance, from what we can see. Thus the Q community does not conform to your statement” (210); and “even that of Q,” “as recorded in the lost document Q,” “indications within Q suggest,” “lay at the roots of Q,” and “Eventually, Q’s content was attributed to” (236).

Remember, Doherty is dogmatic in his assumptions about the existence of Q even though we have never uncovered a single copy or fragment from Q itself and it is never referred to by any New Testament, early church, or secular source.[10]

It is incomprehensible how Doherty can completely dismiss the historical value of the New Testament documents, especially the gospels, because he doesn’t think there is enough evidence to warrant such value, and then write as though this literary supposition has overwhelming historical value.[11] Nevertheless, Doherty is not alone in his paradoxical support of Q and rejection of the New Testament gospels. In fact, many proponents of the superiority of Q and other spurious or hypothetical documents seem to embrace this contradiction. Philip Jenkins notes, “The mostly exaggerated claims made on behalf of these [spurious and/or hypothetical] gospels are more revealing about what contemporary scholars and writers would like to find about the first Christian ages, ad how these ideas are communicated, accurately or otherwise, to a mass public.”[12]

Is There a Synoptic Problem?

The Q hypothesis has been popular because it seeks to address the “problem” of how Matthew and Luke can have things in common that neither has with Mark, and yet supposing that neither Matthew nor Luke could have borrowed from each other.

The supposition is composed in this way: (1) Their unique commonalities are not attributable one to the other; (2) They are not themselves eyewitnesses or with access to eyewitnesses; (3) Therefore their unique commonalities[13] must be attributable to some document other than Mark.

John does not figure into the mix since his gospel is not considered one of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are called synoptic (from the Greek) because their similar and overlapping material can be “viewed together.” The area of study that seeks to account for the commonalities and differences among the synoptic gospels is often called the synoptic problem.

There are qualified New Testament scholars who have examined the evidence for the synoptic problem and have come to the conclusion that there is no synoptic problem at all. One former German higher critical scholar is Eta Linnemann, who has dedicated fifty years to biblical studies, specifically to the historical-critical approach of Bultmann (one of her professors).

She began to question the assumptions and conclusions of what she had been taught was “scientific” investigation of the New Testament gospels. Her meticulous, exhaustive tests and original research led her to reject the historical-critical methodology, the existence of a synoptic problem, literary dependence on the part of the gospel writers, and the existence of Q. She concludes,

The assumption of literary dependence among the three Synoptics, therefore, leads, in view of the data established above, to unacceptable implausibilities, indeed, to absurdities. . . . The great extent of similarity in content, and particularly the roughly 80 percent agreement in recording the words of Jesus, most readily shows that the writers strove for precise reporting. Also, the sort of critical excessiveness that would have to be assumed with the acceptance of literary dependence could never have resulted in the harmonious and self-consistent entities that one finds Matthew and Luke to be.

To put it succinctly: Investigation of the extent of parallelism between Matthew, Mark, and Luke shows clearly that the data in the gospels yield not evidence for the acceptance of literary dependence among the three Synoptics. Such dependence would rather lead to absurd conclusions [italics original].[14]

We were privileged to host Dr. Linnemann for a series of lectures twice, most recently earlier this year (2002), and the wealth of her statistical evidence is devastating to Q. She approached her subject with a sincere skeptic’s commitment to questioning the conclusions of the higher critics.

Her questions led her to original research, including a careful calculation of the actual similarities and dissimilarities among the texts. The charts, calculations, and summaries of her research are formidable and cannot be dismissed lightly.[15]

Authors like Doherty, who claim to be sincere skeptics, should take her example and actually examine the evidence rather than merely parroting assumptions and dogmatic assertions without challenging the results by a careful examination of the documents we possess. For Doherty’s dependence on Q to undermine the authenticity of the New Testament gospels, he must not only address and persuasively discredit the evidence and argumentation against Q itself, but also the alternative approaches like that of Linnemann’s which throw doubt on the very issue of a synoptic problem itself.

With the caveat that there may well be no synoptic problem itself, the remainder of this article will summarize some of the problems Doherty and other critics face as they attempt to propose an original collection of Jesus sayings, Q, that can somehow undermine the Jesus Christ, Son of God story told in the synoptic gospels.

The attention to Q this article represents should not lead the reader to think that we assume the interdependency of the synoptic gospel writers or that the synoptic problem is, in fact, a problem. This article focuses only on the Q hypothesis and its relationship to the synoptic problem as it is usually presented.

Assumptions Regarding Q

Given the presuppositions[16] that (1) Mark was written first, (2) Matthew and Luke both borrowed from Mark, (3) none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitnesses, and (4) neither Matthew nor Luke borrowed from each other, then it would be reasonable to suppose the existence of an otherwise unknown source, or (from the German) Quelle, “Q.”

Once one investigates the available literature on Q, however, the picture is much less certain and much more complicated. That there is no hard evidence of Q is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is genuine scholarly dissent concerning the existence of Q at all.

There are various alternate theses that in many cases account for the “synoptic problem” better than Q and with less appeal to complications and multiple suppositions. Even Q advocates postulate different versions of Q, different compositions of Q at different time periods, and different “evidences” for Q in the gospel texts we possess.

Gregory Boyd notes some of the unnecessary complications, groundless suppositions, and tenuous conclusions adopted by Q enthusiasts:

The long and the short of the matter is that, for Mack, and for the post-Bultmannian school in general, this use of Q can be shown to be quite inconsistent, arbitrary, and circular. What furthers calls into question their perspective is that a large number of scholars outside of their camp, using different starting points and different criteria for redactional analysis, have come to very different understandings of Q. And all of this, at the very least, hast to cast a dark shadow of tentativeness over every reconstruction of the historical Jesus that makes us of such a questionable foundation.[17]

The lack of document verification for Q, the more probable alternate theories[18], and the lack of unanimity among Q supporters taken together undercut any attack on the historical trustworthiness of the gospel manuscripts we possess in favor of a phantom Q.[19]

Divided Opinion about Q

Doherty is inconsistent in trusting Q, which no one has ever seen, instead of the gospels, for which we have multiple attestations over a continuous period of time.[20] In addition, the Q theory itself is not as impervious to criticism as one would think from reading Doherty.

There are many scholars who reject such a view outright. Responsible scholars are careful to acknowledge that Q is nothing more than a working literary supposition, not a historical fact.[21]

Disputations among scholars about Q are not new, arising nearly from its inception in the late eighteenth century. As early as 1880 it was challenged on its home turf, Germany, in a dissertation by Edward Simons, a student of one of the strongest original Q proponents, H. J. Holtzmann.[22]

In 1934 New Testament scholar James Hardy Ropes wrote, “But of such a book [Q] no ancient writer seems ever to have heard, and the grounds on which its existence is inferred by modern scholars are far less secure than is commonly represented or supposed.”[23]

E. P. Sanders and M. Davies wrote, “Historically most scholars have been conscious that ‘Q’ is a scholarly convention which explains the Matthew-Luke double tradition, and they have deliberately remained vague about whether or not it was one document, a loose assemblage of passages, or simply a convenient name for oral or ‘floating’ traditions . . . . This work is mostly of curiosity value, since it shows how far a hypothesis can be pushed despite its lack of fundamental support.”[24] M. D. Goulder’s commentary on Matthew, Midrash and Lection in Matthew, developed a non-Q thesis with thoroughness, and was published in 1974.[25]

Questioning Q’s Assumptions[26]

(1) Markan priority and Markan dependence. This is not the place to discuss dating the New Testament gospel compositions, but it is important to note that Markan priority only need affirm that Mark wrote his gospel first and may have been consulted by other New Testament writers. It does not necessarily mean that others were dependent on Mark; e.g., dependency would mean they had no independent or personal eyewitness testimony, but relied upon Mark.

(2) Ignorance of one gospel writer by the other and lack of personal eyewitness status, necessitating Q dependence. There is no convincing evidence that Matthew and Luke were unknown to each other, or that either could not have consulted the other’s written gospel in preparation of his own.

Although there are no explicit, hard artifact evidences that Luke consulted Matthew, there are some viable literary arguments to that effect, or even that Matthew may have consulted Luke.

Based on what Luke says in the opening of his gospel, it would seem reasonable to suppose that he consulted any and all gospels that had already been written. These would have included Mark and Matthew, if they had been written earlier, and it does not rule out his use of any existent non-canonical gospels. Luke says in the opening verses of the gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4 NIV).

New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre argues from this passage that “we will make the best sense of Luke on the assumption that he has creatively interacted not only with Matthew and Mark but also with oral traditions.”[27]

Goodacre also points out, “Just as most of us [New Testament scholars] do not deny the likelihood that Luke creatively and critically interacted with the living stream of oral tradition when he was working with Mark, so too we should not think it odd that he might have interacted with Matthew in the light of his knowledge of similar material in oral tradition.”[28]

There is interesting evidence that Matthew was written early enough that Luke could have consulted his gospel in the composition of his own. Internationally noted papyrologist Carston Peter Thiede has identified and redated some known fragments of Matthew 26 to the first half of the first century (before A.D. 60). In his The Jesus Papyrus[29] he gives convincing evidence that the fragments (from Magdalen College, Oxford, acquired near the turn of the twentieth century in Cairo, Egypt) are some of our earliest copies of New Testament gospel material. He argues that late dating of the fragments is based on conjecture, not on a scientific study of the data (including ink, letter formation, vocabulary, papyrus, etc.).[30]

Thiede claims his scientific study places the fragments in the first half of the first century, or within twenty years of the events the gospel claims to record. Thiede is not alone in his studies showing that the New Testament documents could have been composed much earlier than once supposed.[31] They could have been composed well within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses to Christ and certainly early enough for the apostles associated with them to have consulted each other.

It should not surprise us that Luke could have consulted Matthew, given the small literary world in which both were composed. New Testament scholar A. M. Farrer summarizes,

Now St. Matthew and St. Luke both emanate from the same literary region – both are orthodox Gentile-Christian writings – composed (let us say) between A.D. 75 and A.D. 90, in an area in which St. Mark’s Gospel was known. Moreover, St. Luke’s own preface informs us that he writes “in view of the fact that several authors have tried their hands at composing an account of the things fulfilled among us.” He claims to know, and, one would naturally suppose, to profit by, more than one gospel-narrative other than his own. By all agreement he knew St. Mark’s, but what other did he know? It would be natural for him to know St. Matthew’s, supposing always that it had been in existence long enough.[32]

Occam’s Razor Shaves Away Q

If Luke could have consulted Matthew (or even the other way around), then there is no reason to postulate an unknown other document like Q at all. New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre explains, “If one can make sense of Luke on the assumption of his knowledge of Matthew (as well as Mark),then Occam’s Razor shaves away the need for a Q.”[33]

Occam’s Razor is a principle named after[34] a mediaeval philosopher named William of Occam who gave the principle its most common definition. In short, it means that one should not increase the complexity of an explanation without good reason. Evidence is preferable to assumption. The fewer assumptions necessary to make a coherent, consistent explanation, the better.

Applied to the gospel, this means that if we have absolutely not a shred of actual evidence that Q ever existed, and the unique commonalities between Matthew and Luke can be explained by their borrowing from each other, then we should not unnecessarily complicate our understanding by presuming Q.

New Testament scholar Morton Scott Enslin agrees that Q is an unnecessary assumption: “the very existence of this hypothetical source depends solely on the assumption of the independence of Matthew and Luke. If either used the other, there is no need to postulate a Q to explain the so-called ‘double-tradition.”[35] He concludes that the differences between them are accorded by their different literary styles as authors, not by their different use of an additional source:

Accordingly, it appears to me that a frank recognition of the fact that both of these writers were authors in the truest sense of the word – but authors who lived in the first century, not the twentieth – deprives the argument that each must have worked independent of each other, because of their omissions and substitutions, of most of its force, and enables us to see the matter of their so-called agreements in a different light.[36]

Enslin concludes, “But I find myself more and more skeptical not about the age of Q but of its very existence, and am inclined to feel that it is an unnecessary and unwarranted assumption serving to account for material common to Matthew and Luke which can be more satisfactorily explained on the hypothesis that one of them used the other.[37]

New Testament scholars E. P. Sanders and M. Davies agree: “We think that Matthew used Mark and undefined other sources, while creating some of the sayings material. Luke used Mark and Matthew, as well as other sources, and the author also created sayings material.”[38]

Ropes, quoted before regarding the absence of any hard evidence for Q, commented, “the fundamental assumption that Luke and Matthew were independent of each other has been but lightly treated, and often the critical significance of this question for the problem does not seem to have been present to the critics’ minds. There is, however, an alternative, namely that Luke drew these sayings from Matthew, and in the present state of the investigation it ought not to be excluded from consideration.”[39]

Ropes concluded, “The theory of the ‘Logia’ or ‘Q’ – has tended to be modified, refined, and complicated to such a degree as, for that reason if for no other, to arouse doubts of its validity. There is a simpler, competing possibility, namely that Luke drew these sayings from our Gospel of Matthew, which has never been shown to be impossible. If this could be made a probability, the hypothesis of ‘Q’ would lose at least its main ground of support.”[40]

Q skeptic Michael D. Goulder, of Oxford, affirms, “The live alternative to Q is in essence that proposed by Austin Farrer in 1957: Mark wrote first; Matthew wrote an expanded version of Mark; and Luke used and adapted both earlier Gospels.”[41]

In a thoughtful, detailed examination of the Q hypothesis, New Testament scholar Edward C. Hobbs (Professor of Theology, Hermeneutics, and New Testament at the Graduate Theological Union) asks rhetorically, “Why does the Q Hypothesis exist at all?” He continues,

If the materials common to all three Synoptic Gospels are accounted for by the Marcan Priority Hypothesis, we are left with much common material in Matthew and Luke, as well as numerous “minor” agreements against Mark in material apparently derived from Mark. What is the natural explanation of this common material? Surely not a hypothetical lost document, but rather that one of them had seen the other’s book. Only when the latter explanation has proved untenable would we think of postulating the former.[42]

To review, Doherty’s blithe assumption of the validity of the Q hypothesis flies in the face of (1) the complete absence of any copies or fragments of Q; (2) the complete absence of any references to or quotations identified as from Q in the New Testament and early Christian writings; (3) the complete absence of any references to or quotations identified as from Q in early non-Christian writing; (4) the much less complicated, much less theoretically complex theory that either Matthew or Luke may have borrowed from the other (probably Luke from Matthew).

Following the Literary Clues

The mysterious case of the missing Q does not conclude here, however. There are additional reasons Q fails to satisfy the evidence or supplant alternate theories regarding the composition of the synoptic gospels. For example, Michael Goulder notes the importance of literary clues such as imagery, stating, “The use of imagery may be a more certain guide to authorship than the vocabulary. Images are a basic element to the thinking of an individual mind.”[43]

Although literary criticism does not have the hard artifact, nuts-and-bolts sort of objectivity and certainty as a scientific investigation, one can make reasonable assumptions based on the literary structure of any work. There are literary indications that Matthew and Luke may have consulted each other (probably Luke of Matthew) without reference to a third-party Q document. These indications include (1) major and minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark,[44] (2) the phenomenon of fatigue;[45] (3) Luke’s fulfillment of his literary purpose (already quoted from Luke 1:1-4).

Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark

Many critics of Q have noted a number of minor and major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark. One in particular is pertinent to our discussion of Doherty’s assumption that if Jesus ever existed at all, it was not as a Son of God who died and rose again. This will serve as an example of agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.

Doherty assumes, as advocates of Q must, that none of the accounts of Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, or resurrection can be original to Q. (Remember, it is, in one form or another, early or late, layered or not, a collection of sayings, not a recitation of a miracle-working savior’s atonement.)[46]

Michael D. Goulder includes an important agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark in Matthew 26:67-68 cf. Luke 22:63-64 against Mark 14:65:

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

Notice that Matthew and Luke both include “Who hit you?” while Mark does not. According to the Q hypothesis, this statement could not have its origin in Q, since Q contains nothing of the events of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection (called the passion story). But it cannot have its origin in Mark, because it is missing in Mark.

Goulder comments on the importance of this agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark:

Q . . . consisted of [at least] the matter common to Matthew and Luke in the ministry, but without a passion story. Hence, if we could find a single passage in the passion story where it was clear [= overwhelmingly probable, in a non-experimental study] that Luke knew Matthew, we should have cut the ground from under the hypothesis. So Q would be falsifiable: and Popper had said that only falsifiable hypotheses were useful, because if there were no test, we could never find out if they were right or wrong. “All swans are white” is a useful hypothesis because it would be falsified by the discovery of one black swan.

The point is significant because when an apparently clear test is in evidence, in the form of the Minor Agreement [noted in the text columns above], most defenders of Q disappear into the smokescreen. Either there was an earlier lost form of the test [of Mark that we can call] (Ur-Markus), or a later lost form of the text (Deutero-Markus), or another version of the story (Nebenquelle), or an oral version, or multiple layers of tradition, or Luke had Matthew as well as Q. All of these possibilities are open to defenders of Q; but if they make them they make the theory unfalsifiable, and so not useful – we can never know if it is true or not . . . . I am hopeful that when the situation is recognized, it will be seen that the Q hypothesis is either false, . . . or disreputable,. . . and will be abandoned.[47]

The elimination from Q of all references to the elements of the passion story is fundamental to the Q hypothesis. It is also absolutely essential to Doherty’s argument that what existed first was the mythical and only later the historical features of the gospels.[48] According to Q proponents (and Doherty, in particular, sometimes for different reasons), the amorphous sayings circulated long before any need to put a historical context in the picture.

Those who might argue that Luke’s opening “credits” (Luke 1:1-4) admit of the possibility of Q violate their own standards, as Hobbs notes,

Does Luke’s preface not claim that books like Q existed prior to his writing? No; for he says that they dealt with “the things fulfilled among us,” which means above al the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Will a miscellaneous collection of teachings serve the purpose, prefaced by John’s preaching, Jesus’ baptism, and his wilderness temptation? The narrative beginning is weighty indeed; but it “peters out in miscellaneous oracles.” No Passion, no Resurrection – not even any ending. This will hardly fit Luke’s description, which sounds suspiciously like Gospels such as Mark’s, for example. To postulate Q is to postulate the unevidenced and the unique.[49]

Farrer makes the same point about the passion narrative focus of Luke, stating, “But Q does not answer to the description [of Luke 1:1-4]. The ‘things fulfilled’ are, in St. Luke’s view, the death and resurrection of Jesus above all. Q is not supposed to have contained an account of them, and therefore Q is not covered by St. Luke’s words. He was talking about gospels, about the sort of book he himself proposed to write. And Q was not a gospel.”[50]

Other passages where Luke prefers Matthew to Mark include The Temptation (Matt. 4:1-11 cf. Mark 1:12-12 cf. Luke 4:1-13), Beelzebub (Matt. 12:22-30 cf. Mark 3:20-27 cf. Luke 11:14-23; and the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:18-19 cf. Mark 4:30-32 cf. Luke 13:18-19).[51]

Goodacre has counted one “thousand or so” minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark, including the passion story citation in columns above.

The Clue of Literary Fatigue

Sometimes the best clues are “after-effects,” not the thing sought itself, but traces that the thing has left. Footprints in the snow, energy in a vacuum, fragrance in the air are examples of the kind of indirect evidence that we accept in other areas.

When we challenge the Q hypothesis, an important kind of indirect literary evidence is literary fatigue. Oxford scholar Mark Goodacre explains,

Editorial fatigue is a phenomenon that will inevitably occur when a writer is heavily dependent on another’s work. In telling the same story as his predecessor, a writer makes changes in the early stages which he is unable to sustain throughout. Like continuity errors in film and television, examples of fatigue will be unconscious mistakes, small errors of detail which naturally arise in the course of constructing a narrative. They are interesting because they can betray an author’s hand, most particularly in revealing to us the identity of his sources.[52]

Several New Testament scholars have studied literary fatigue in regard to the gospels and other ancient literature in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, for example. G. M. Styler uses examples of literary fatigue to argue for the composition of the gospel of Mark as the earliest written gospel. Michael Goulder, a skeptic of the Q hypothesis has also done considerable work in this area.

There is strong indirect evidence that Luke consulted Matthew as well as Mark as he composed his gospel. Goodacre presents several examples in his essay, beginning with the prominent one of the Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation (Matthew 13:1-23 cf. Mark 4:1-20 cf. Luke 8:4-15). He observes, “On three occasions, Luke apparently omits features of Mark’s Parable which he goes on to mention in the Interpretation. First, Mark says that the seed that fell on rocky soil sprang up quickly because it had no depth of earth (Mark 4:5; contrast Luke 8:6). Luke omits to mention this, for whatever reason, but he has the corresponding section in the Interpretation, ‘those who, when they hear, with joy they receive the word’ (Luke 8:13; cf. Mark 4:16).”[53] This is an example of fatigue on the part of Luke referring to Mark.

A similar kind of example comparing Matthew and Luke gives us literary fatigue evidence that Luke consulted Matthew. Among Goodacre’s examples is Luke’s use of Matthew’s version of the mission charge (Mark 6:6b-13; Matthew 10:5-15; Luke 9:1-6).

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals, but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. These Twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.


When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Goodacre’s commentary is succinct: “It seems likely that Luke has imagined the disciples in a town, the one mentioned in Matthew, but he has forgotten that he omitted to mention entry into that town. Once more, editorial fatigue will explain the incongruity but this time there may be a cost: the suggestion of Lucan dependence on Matthew.”[54]

According to Goodacre, he has looked and could not find any examples of Matthew exhibiting fatigue from Luke: “On the Q theory it does strain plausibility that Luke should often show fatigue in double tradition material and that Matthew should never do so, especially given Matthew’s clearly observable tendency to become fatigued in his editing of Mark.”[55]

Luke’s Literary Trail

The words of the gospel itself give us literary clues to how the author used other sources in his composition. Enslin notes that when the purposes of the gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) are considered, the strength of the Q hypothesis wanes:

If, as has been argued in the preceding chapters, they were authors who approached their task with definite purposes and objects, much of the weight of this often repeated argument vanishes. . . . It appears to me that a frank recognition of the fact that both of these writers were authors in the truest sense of the word – but authors who lived in the first century, not the twentieth – deprives the argument that each must have worked independent of each other, because of their omissions and substitutions, of most of its force, and enables us to see the matter of their so-called agreements in a different light.[56]

Mark Goodacre agrees that the literary features of Luke compared to Matthew and Mark provide strong circumstantial stylistic evidence against Q and in favor of Luke having access to both Mark and Matthew. Goodacre concludes, “The more that scholars appreciate Luke’s literary ability, the less necessary Q will become.”[57] As our understanding of the process of gospel formation increases through papyrology, textual criticism, archaeology, and first century Jewish teaching traditions, the assumption that Luke could have used Matthew as well as Mark seems obvious. Hobbs notes,

Q was necessitated by the supposition that Luke cannot have seen Matthew’s Gospel. That supposition, in turn, rested on the assumption that the way in which the Evangelists worked, an assumption which severely limited our view of their creativity and literary powers, and necessitated written source documents for virtually every line of new material. This assumption has undergone gradual but great change, and that change has resulted in an understanding of the Evangelists’ creativity which eliminates the grounds for denying Luke access to Matthew. If Luke can have seen both Matthew and Mark, and still written the Gospel he did, the Q hypothesis is otiose, a needless superfluity.[58]

Luke’s literary purpose in designing his gospel in the way we find it is complex. Its discovery depends not only on knowledge of literary devices and styles, but also knowledge of the Old Testament and rabbinical summaries and analogies from the Old Testament. An excellent discussion of Luke’s theological purpose behind his literary structure is in New Testament scholar Edward C. Hobbs’s A Quarter-Century without Q.

The Gospel of Thomas and Q

Some people think that the existence of the gnostic second century Gospel of Thomas, a loose collection of sayings attributed to Jesus lends credence to the Q hypothesis.[59] If there is one collection of sayings, why not two?

New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre summarizes the reasons the Gospel of Thomas does not support the Q hypothesis:

The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas apparently helps the Q theorists to dispense with one of [the] arguments against Q, that “there is no independent evidence for anything like Q.” . . . However, we cannot go beyond that to the notion that Thomas somehow proves the existence of Q, particularly when we bear in mind the following:

1. The existence of Thomas does not help us with the key question of whether or not Matthew and Luke are independent, the essential presupposition of the Q theory.

2. The degree of formal similarity between Q and Thomas should not be exaggerated . . . .

3. There is overlap between the contents of Thomas and the contents of Q. . . but there is overlap also between Thomas and Mark, Thomas and “M” [a proposed proto-Mark] and Thomas and “L” [a proto-Luke]. In other words, Q apparently has no unique or special relationship with Thomas.

4. Unlike Thomas, Q apparently has a blatant narrative exordium in which the progress of Jesus’ ministry is carefully plotted . . . This sequence makes good sense when one sees that these are places where Luke parallels the non-Markan elements in Matthew 3-11.[60]

The Phantom Contents of the Missing Q

Supporters of the Q hypothesis argue as though they can reconstruct the original text of Q (or of any one of the hypothetical chronological layers of Q) from the gospel documents we posses. They argue that we can postulate back from the material that is common to Matthew and Luke but not Mark, and from presuppositions about the “sayings” character of Q (teachings, not narrative; sayings, not supernatural). New Testament scholar Gregory Boyd makes the devastating observation, however, that “we, at most, could only know how these authors [Matthew and Luke – and even Mark, according to Burton Mack] used this document. What it did and did not have in its supposedly ‘original form’ is simply unavailable to us.”[61] Boyd concludes,

Given that everything we actually know about this document (if it exists) is dependent on what Matthew and Luke have in common, and given that their phrasing and placing of the hypothetical contents of this supposed document varies significantly, the attempt to arrive at its original wording and order must be regarded as extremely tentative. And the attempt to apply redaction criticism to this document on the basis of this guesswork must be regarded as even more speculative.[62]

Nevertheless, Q advocates continue to insist that Q is more reliable, more certain, and more authentic than the gospel records we actually possess. Some advocates even develop sophisticated schemes of Q “layers,” such as Doherty’s references to Q-1, Q-2, and Q-3.[63] Nevertheless, it is important to remember that no one has ever found any reference to a Q type document in any of the ancient literature, Christian, Jewish or secular, and no one has ever found any fragment of a Q type document.

Despite the entire dearth of hard artifact and testimonial evidence for Q, Q advocates sometimes even go further than trying to trace evidence for Q through the gospels we possess. They try to argue that on the basis of Q, we can firmly conclude (as does Doherty) that the Jews of Jesus’ day never postulated a sophisticated Messiah figure who possessed miracle-working power, proclaimed himself the Son of God, was crucified, died, and rose again from the dead.

Boyd points out the logical impossibility of arguing in this vein, showing the “double-negative” error of assuming an absence from a silence:

First, and perhaps most fundamentally, this argument about the nature of Q assumes the validity of the earlier discussed post-Bultmannian view that early Christianity was characterized by radical pluralism. If one starts instead with the general conviction (demonstrated above) of a broadly defined normative unity among the early church, this entire argument from silence (arguing from what Q does not say) loses all of its force. . . . We possess and understand a great deal about the New Testament documents, but we do not have Q and can only guess at its constitution. So, at the very least, it seems poor historical method to overturn what is known on the basis of what is not. . . .

There is, then, nothing to compel one to follow the post-Bultmannian tendency to invest a good deal of historical and theological significance in what Q does not say. This ground is simply not solid enough to bear much (if any) theoretical weight. And the whole procedure of arguing from silence is itself questionable. Historical theories should be built on the foundation of what is present in concrete evidence that is available; not in what is absent in hypothetical evidence that is altogether unavailable.[64]

New Testament scholar Philip Jenkins echoes this logical conundrum facing Q and other pseudo or hypothetical “gospels,” saying, “Furthermore, as the truism holds, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and the fact that some Jesus followers preserved a work which failed to mention messiahship, resurrection, or divine status does not mean that these doctrines were not held.”[65]

Whenever Q and Thomas were collected, these documents must have been composed by people who knew and valued doctrines such as the Resurrection ad possibly messiahship, but chose not to include them in these particular texts. It is not legitimate to use the absences in these gospels as evidence of any belief or lack of belief in the earliest church. For all their apparent oddness, Q and Thomas provide a poor foundation upon which to build a whole alternate history of the first Christians.[66]

He concludes on the basis of the evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls that even the teachings and events of John’s Gospel could be early and authentically Jewish. John is often dismissed by higher critical scholars as much later than the synoptic gospels and full of teachings foreign to the Jewish Christians of the early first century. Jenkins says the idea of a developed Messiah theologies of first century Jews is exemplified by the Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) community:

Scroll evidence now strengthens the likelihood that Jesus really did make claims about his messianic status, and did everything short of making an explicit statement that was indeed the Christ (and not, for example, Wisdom incarnate. . . . Evidence from the scrolls places John ever more firmly in a religious context that is strictly Jewish, and far earlier than many would once have believed. John’s dualistic ideas of the conflict between Light and Darkness would have found a receptive home among the authors of the Scrolls, showing that this theme reflected early Jewish ideas rather than the Gnostic language of a century or two later. Overall, the Scrolls were good news for conservative and evagelical scholars, who could use this undoubtedly early Jewish source as a potent weapon against the much later Nag Hammadi texts invoked by the Jesus Seminar: my scrolls can beat your codex.[67]

The Disappearance of the Mysterious Q

When the evidence is evaluated and the arguments are tested, the Q hypothesis falls much further short of authenticity than the New Testament gospels Doherty and other skeptics are so quick to dismiss.[68]

The current leading critic of the Q hypothesis, Mark Goodacre, concludes, “In summary, Q remains popular because the alternatives are either unfamiliar. . . unacceptable . . . or unpalatable. . . . Q, on the other hand, keeps good company (Markan Priority) and enjoys that luxury of being taken for granted by a majority that has not, as Luke would have said, investigated the matter carefully from the beginning.”[69]

He is joined by New Testament scholar A. M. Farrer, who concludes,

The Q hypothesis is not, of itself, a probable hypothesis. It is simply the sole alternative to the supposition that St. Luke had read St. Matthew (or vice versa). It needs no refutation except the demonstration that its alternative is possible. It hangs on a single thread; cut that, and it falls by its own weight. . . . The literary history of the Gospels will turn out to be a simpler matter than we had supposed. St. Matthew will be seen to be an amplified version of St. Mark, based on a decade of habitual preaching, and incorporating oral material, but presupposing no other literary source beside St. Mark himself. St. Luke, in turn, will be found to presuppose St. Matthew and St. Mark, and St. John to presuppose the three others. The whole literary history of the canonical Gospel tradition will be found to be contained in the fourfold canon itself, except in so far as it lies in the Old Testament, the Pseudepigrapha, and the other New Testament writings.”[70]

The evidence has been sifted, the clues have been followed, and Doherty’s claim that rests strongly on the Q document has been tumbled. Doherty has failed at three significant points: (1) he trusts in Q but not in the New Testament documents, even though there is abundant evidence for the latter and nothing for the former; (2) he has failed to consider that there may be no literary dependence, collusion, or contradiction among the synoptic gospels, as is argued by scholars such as Eta Linnemann[71]; and (3) even the arguments for Q can be answered and overturned in a variety of ways through a variety of evidence and argumentation. Doherty’s entire challenge to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ does not rest on Q; but Doherty’s double standards applied to Q and the New Testament gospels invalidates all for which he summons Q as supporting evidence.

  1. New Testament scholar Burton Mack, for example, uses Q as the basis for his dismissal of the eyewitness character of the synoptic gospels. See Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q(San Francisco: Harper Books, 1993). The Jesus Seminar Fellows actually argue that Q should be given canonical status along with the accepted books of the New Testament. See Mahlon H. Smith, The Canonical Status of Q on-line. We are not disputing that the gospel writers had available and used oral and written material about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We are disputing that the gospel writers were dependent on sources that omit features such as Jesus’s miracles, resurrection, claims to be the divine Son of God, etc. We are also disputing that the gospel writers were not eyewitnesses or had no direct access to eyewitness testimony and evidence.
  2. Lee Strobel. The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
  3. Earl Doherty. Challenging the Verdict (Ottawa, Canada: Age of Reason Publications, 2001. Although we focus in this article on Doherty’s dependence on Q, he has many other arguments and evidence that could be criticized as thoroughly. Those are topics for other articles. This one focuses on Q.
  4. Philip Jenkins. Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, 157.
  5. Smith,
  6. Michael D. Goulder notes that until the 1890s Q was known as the Logia and is still often called in German the Logienquelle. It was first conjectured by K. Credner and C. H. Weisse because they thought that it was testified to in early writings, by Papias. Thus, the Q hypothesis rests in part on a misunderstanding; I do not think that anyone today maintains that Papias meant by logia a sayings document such as “Q”, Is Q a Juggernaut? from the Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996), 667-681 This sentiment is echoed by Morton Scott Enslin: “There is a very high probability that Papias is not referring by these words to anything save our canonical Matthew. To press ‘logia’ to refer to a catena of Jesus’s sayings is utterly unwarranted, for the Greek word can equally well refer to narrative stories or to a connected account embracing both narrative and discourse. For scholars to continue to use the term logia in reference to the purely hypothetical Q is in every way deplorable and cannot fail to lead to confusion and misstatement. . . . There is absolutely no reference to this hypothetical source in Papias or any other writer anterior to the nineteenth century” [Christian Beginnings (New York: Harper and Row, 1938) 431-434].
  7. Others define Q differently, sometimes depending on their own level of confidence in the existence of such a document. Conservative New Testament commentator Darrell L. Bock, for example, is far from certain that Q represents a particular, unique document. In his commentary on Luke (volume one) he calls Q “a document containing only sayings, which has only the Gospel of Thomas as a possible parallel in this genre “and concludes, “While noting that others speak of Q as a bona fide document or set of documents, I understand Q to be a fluid pool of traditions from which both Luke and Matthew drew” (Darrel L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994, 8-9).
  8. A good summary explanation of Q is by Christian author James Williams in his article The Jesus Seminar at Its various permutations are also covered in Gregory A. Boyd’s Cynic Sage or Son of God? – Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (Baker Book House, 1995), 135-145.
  9. In fact Q was completely unknown until the late nineteenth century. See, for example, New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre’s Ten Reasons to Question Q at
  10. Those who attempt to argue that this silence is irrelevant have been answered well by Michael D. Goulder in his essay Is Q a Juggernaut?, 669.
  11. Doherty, like most Q proponents, postulates a “layered” Q consisting of different kinds of sayings more or less distanced from the supposed events of Jesus’ ministry. In the popular stratification theory, usually attributed to liberal scholar J. Kloppenborg, Q was collected in three layers or stratifications. Conservative scholar Gregory Boyd describes Kloppenborg’s stratification this way: “Q-1 is characterized by wisdom motifs while Q-2 is characterized by a (later) apocalyptic/prophetic theme . . . . [and] Q-3 (the Temptation narrative)” (Boyd, Cynic, 139).
  12. Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 5.
  13. This only sounds like an oxymoron.
  14. Eta Linnemann, Is There a Synoptic Problem? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 106.
  15. Linnemann’s meticulous study of the gospels is summarized in her Is There a Synoptic Problem? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992) and discussed further in Biblical Criticism on Trial (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001).
  16. And, as we have already stated, those are mighty large presuppositions themselves, open to strong criticism and counter theories from well-qualified New Testament scholars.
  17. Boyd, Cynic, 141.
  18. Including the rejection of a synoptic problem altogether.
  19. A comprehensive critique of the Q hypothesis is in Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002). Mark Goodacre (M.A., M.Phil., D.Phil. – Oxford) teaches in the department of Theology at the University of Birmingham in England.
  20. This article is not the place for a positive discussion of the historical reliability of the gospels. There are many resources available on this subject, both in print and on-line. An excellent book is by the scholar Doherty criticizes, New Testament professor Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary, called The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987. Two good on-line sources on the gospel’s historical reliability are at Truth [] and Answers [] Good information on the earliest copies of gospel manuscripts and fragments is at Earliest Copies []
  21. In addition to Mark Goodacre’s book referenced above, following are some of the most important academic treatments of this problem:
    • A. M. Farrer, On Dispensing with Q, from D. E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), 55-88.
    • Edward C. Hobbs, A Quarter-Century without “Q” from the }Perkins School of Theology Journal 33/4 (1980), 10-19
    • Michael D. Goulder, Is Q a Juggernaut? from the Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996), 667-681
    • Mark Goodacre, A Monopoly on Marcan Priority? Fallacies at the Heart of Q from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 2000 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), 538-622.

    Other scholars who are open to the dismissal of the Q hypothesis include Nigel Turner, A. W. Argyle, R. T. Simpson, Wilhelm Wilkens, and Robert Morgenthaler. The balance of this article focuses on criticisms of the Q hypothesis from a representative selection of qualified New Testament scholars. We have deliberately not limited our selection to conservative evangelicals to ensure that readers understand the broad basis of criticism against the Q hypothesis.

  22. Euard Simons. Hat der dritte Evangelist den kanonischen Matth us benutzt? (Has the Third Evangelist Used the Canonical Matthew?) (Bonn: Kaiser-Wilhelms-Universitt, 1880).
  23. James Hardy Ropes. The Synoptic Gospels. London: Oxford University Press, 1934, 37. This source and some others in this section are posted on New Testament scholar Marc Goodacre’s web site in an article titled Key Quotations at
  24. E. P. Sanders and M. Davies. Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM Press, 1989), 116.
  25. Goulder has also discussed his thesis in two articles in the January 1978 issue of New Testament Studies.
  26. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of the alternate theories to Q, nor all of the facets of Q, objections to Q, and objections to the objections to Q (such as the “Mark-Q Overlap” theory. The interested reader can peruse all of these issues in Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q. This article only provides the evidence and argumentation that Q is less defensible, less well-attested, and less satisfying as an explanation for the gospels than that they are historically reliable records of a man who proved to be God in the flesh, resurrected forevermore.
  27. Mark Goodacre, Frequently Asked Questions on the Case Against Q at
  28. Mark Goodacre, A Monopoly?
  29. Originally titled Eyewitness to Jesus with co-author Matthew D’Ancona (New York: Doubleday, 1996). Thiede covers the material in others of his books, including Jesus: Life or Legend? (Oxford, England: Lion Books, 1990, 1997); Rekindling the Word: In Search of Gospel Truth (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995); and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity (New York: Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
  30. Thiede’s expertise as a technical expert in the study of ancient papyrus is recognized even by critics who disagree with this finding. (See, for example, Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 189-190).
  31. Some other New Testament scholars who date the composition of some or all of the New Testament gospels earlier than A.D. 70 include John A. T. Robinson, John Wenham, Philip Comfort, and Jose O’Callahan.
  32. Farrer, 57.
  33. Mark Goodacre. Frequently Asked Questions on the Case Against Q at
  34. See, for example, the Principia Cybernetica Web definition at
  35. Enslin, 431-434.
  36. Enslin, 431-434.
  37. Enslin, 434.
  38. Sanders and Davies, 117.
  39. Ropes, 66-68.
  40. Ropes, 94.
  41. Farrer, Is Q a Juggernaut? 668.
  42. Hobbs, 12-13.
  43. Goulder, 680.
  44. These are covered extensively in Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q, 152-169.
  45. This is the designation given by Mark Goodacre in Ten Reasons to Question Q for the habit of a copying author to progressively condense, simplify, and/or mis-abbreviate what he is copying as he works further and further through his own document. It is discussed further in his article Fatigue in the Synoptics and in his book The Case Against Q, 40-43.
  46. One of the arguments for early dating of Q (or Q1 for those who layer Q) is that collections of sayings precede narratives and especially claims of the supernatural and the events of passion week (the trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection). Philip Jenkins makes the interesting observation that at least one very late pseudo-gospel is also merely a collection of sayings. He notes, “Generally, texts like Q that offer sayings without narrative belong to an early stage of the tradition, but the same format also appears in much later documents. One example is a Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Philip, which probably dates from the later third century. Though lacking the recurrent ‘Jesus said’ formula, Philip is an anthology of seemingly unconnected sayings and statements without ay narrative or biographical structure” (Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 69-70).
  47. Goulder, 675.
  48. Doherty’s insistence that the mythical Jesus “existed” in the literature before the historical Jesus is contrary to most liberal scholarly approaches. The common scholarly “demythologizing” of the gospels is to ascribe the earliest traditions to a historical Jewish teacher named Jesus who was mythologized by later generations into the supernatural “Christ” of the gospels in the form in which we find them. As a matter of fact, most literary scholars and historians assume that there is an historical kernel behind most myths, not, as Doherty argues, a myth behind characters ascribed as historical. Doherty provides no evidence or scholarly support for his backward reconstruction, another factor that effectively undermines his entire thesis. But that is a subject for a different article.
  49. Hobbs, 13.
  50. Farrer, 59.
  51. Goodacre, FAQ.
  52. Goodacre, Fatigue, 46.
  53. Goodacre, Fatigue, 49.
  54. Goodacre, Fatigue, 56.
  55. Goodacre, Fatigue, 57-58.
  56. Enslin, 331-334.
  57. Goodacre, FAQ.
  58. Hobbs, 14. Nearly the same sentiments are expressed in Farrer, 56.
  59. A critical evaluation of the authenticity and first century origin of the Gospel of Thomas would also undercut Doherty, who also appeals to this second century gnostic document in his attack on the New Testament documents. That is a subject reserved for another article.
  60. Goodacre, FAQ.
  61. Boyd, Cynic, 137.
  62. Boyd, Cynic, 138.
  63. The stratification of Q is given its most sophisticated and strongly argued form by J. Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987).
  64. Boyd, Cynic, 142-145.
  65. Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 73.
  66. Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 81.
  67. Jenkins, Hidden Gospels, 192-193.
  68. The purpose of this article is to show the faulty assumptions Q hypothesis advocates cling to so tenaciously. It is not to explore all of the various alternatives to Q. Those interested in such issues should see Mark Goodacre, Fallacies at the Heart of Q; John McVay, The Synoptic Problem; J. P. Holding, Q TipsThe Gospel of Q: All Sides to the Controversy; and Bock, Luke 7-12.
  69. Goodacre, FAQ
  70. Farrer, 62, 86.
  71. Linnemann concludes concerning Q, “as co-conspirator with the Gospel of Thomas to undermine the whole Christian faith, Q is nothing but fantasy. The same goes for the literary shuffling used to discern various layers in it. Such totally subjective arrangements, depending on dubious suggestions about the historical background, amount to novelistic trifling with early Christian origins” ( The Lost Gospel of Q: Fact or Fantasy at


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