By Garrett Best
This is the third post in a series of posts on why it is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar. In the first post, I presented a brief summary of the evidence that has led scholars to conclude that there is literary relationship between the three Synoptic Gospels. Someone is copying someone. In the second post, I laid out the dominant scholarly position that Mark was the first Gospel to be written and Matthew and Luke both used Mark in order to write their own Gospels.
In this post, I’d like to talk about the Q document. Most of the material that Matthew and Luke share can be explained by their use of Mark. Since they were both copying from Mark, it makes sense they would have much in common. However, Matthew and Luke have about 235 verses in common which are not found in Mark. That’s close to 20% of the material in Matthew and Luke. How do you explain this phenomenon?
Since most of the material Matthew and Luke share can be explained in terms of their copying a written Mark, how do you think scholars explain these shared 235 verses? As you might expect, scholars believe there was another document which Matthew and Luke both used in addition to Mark which helps explain this 20% of shared material. Since this document no longer exists, scholars refer to it as “Q”. Scholars use the letter “Q” from the German word Quelle which means “source” to designate this hypothetical source.
A few are so convinced that Q existed as a written document, there have been commentaries produced on the Q document. Commentaries! That means these scholars believe they can actually go verse-by-verse and tell you what was originally in Q. For example, in 2005, HT Fleddermann authored Q. A Reconstruction and Commentary. John Kloppenborg Verbin wrote a book entitled Excavating Q which goes so far as to posit that Q was mostly likely written in the 50s and 60s in lower Galilee by a group of village scribes in low social standing who were iconoclastic against the Galileean religious scene and saw themselves as a renewal movement. Wow! That’s a lot to say about a hypothetical community behind a hypothetical document. John Meier said it best, “Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.” (Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2001, 2:178)
With that qualification in mind, many scholars are convinced that there was some kind of source lying behind the 235 verses shared by Matthew and Luke. Although they believe Q existed as a written document, they are not as positive as scholars like Fleddermann or Kloppenborg Verbin that it is possible to reconstruct it. Nonetheless, I will briefly summarize the two main reasons why scholars believe Matthew and Luke used Q.
Evidence for the Existence of Q:
- The Argument from Wording- Many verses in Matthew and Luke are extremely similar. They share almost exact wording. For example, in Mt. 6:24 and Lk. 16:13, twenty-seven of the twenty-eight Greek words are the same. In Mt. 7:7-8 and Lk. 11:9-10, all twenty-four words are identical and in the same order. In Matthew 11:21-23 and Lk. 10:12-15, forty-three of the forty-nine words are parallel. This is beyond coincidence if we remember that Jesus was mostly likely speaking in Aramaic and the Gospels are the Greek translations of his original teachings. The similarity of word order is also impressive given that there are multiple ways to express the same thought in Greek. Identical translations into Greek and identical sentence structures are unlikely and point to the need for a theory of literary dependence.
- The Argument from Doublets- In my opinion, this is the strongest argument in favor of Luke and Matthew using both Mark, and another source, Q. Consider these examples:
- In Mark 8:34 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is parallel in Matt. 16:24 and Lk. 9:23. Given what we already have seen, this makes sense if Matthew and Luke are using Mark to write their Gospels, especially since the saying is connected to the confession of Peter in all three Gospels. Matthew is copying Mark in Matt. 16:24 and Luke is copying Mark in Lk. 9:23. However, the same saying occurs again in Matt. 10:38 and Lk. 14:27 that has no parallel in Mark. This means that Q also had the same saying of Jesus. Thus, Matthew was copying Mark in Matt. 16:24 and Q in Matt. 10:38. Luke was copying Mark in Lk. 9:23 and Q in Lk. 14:27. This is what is referred to as a doublet. Doublets are two forms of the same saying, one which appears in Mark and the other which occurs in Q.
- In addition to the doublets shared by both Matthew and Luke, there are also unique doublets that only appear in Matthew or Luke. For example, the accusation against Jesus which occurs in Mark 3:22 that “by the prince of demons he casts out demons” is used by Matthew in Matt. 9:34. However, the same accusation occurs in another story that is not in Mark. The same accusation is made in a different context in Matt. 12:24 and Lk. 11:15. We would then explain the saying in Matt. 9:34 because Matthew is copying from Mark 3:22. However, the saying occurs again in Matt. 12:24 and is paralleled in Lk. 11:15. Thus, this would be an instance of the same saying occurring twice in Matthew, one from Mark (Matt. 9:34) and the other from Q (Matt. 12:24).
- There are dozens of examples of this phenomenon. If Matthew and Luke used both Mark and Q, then one can see why these doublets exist. A doublet occurs because one of the sayings comes from Mark and the other from Q. The doublets are examples of where Mark and Q contain similar material. Since Matthew and Luke used both Mark and Q, sometimes the similarity of material shows up as doublets in their respective Gospels.
This is just a brief snapshot of a very detailed discussion. The priority of Mark is as close to certainty as we can get to knowing anything about the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels to one another. If Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke used Mark to write their Gospels, it becomes easy to explain why the material shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke is so similar.
You still have not explained the over 200 verses that only Matthew and Luke have in common. If they both used Mark to write their Gospels, why is it difficult to think they used another document available at the time? If you compare the material in these 200 verses, the majority of its content is sayings and teachings of Jesus. We know that there were collections of sayings of Jesus that existed in the first century like the Gospel of Thomas. It is not at all unreasonable that Matthew and Luke both used a collection of sayings like this in addition to using Mark.
At the end of the day, unless Q were to be discovered in an arid desert somewhere, all discussions of Q are hypothetical. All we can say is that there most likely was another source used by Matthew and Luke in addition to Mark that consisted of a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus which we now refer to as Q.