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The Q source (also Q document, Q Gospel, Q Sayings Gospel, or Q from German: Quelle, meaning "source") is a hypothetical written collection of sayings (logia) of Jesus defined as the "common" material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in their other written source, the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this ancient text was based on the Oral Tradition of the Early Church.
Along with Markan priority, Q was hypothesized by 1900, and it is one of the foundations of modern gospel scholarship. B. H. Streeter formulated a widely accepted view of Q: that it was a written document (not an oral tradition) composed in Greek; that almost all of its contents appear in Matthew, in Luke, or in both; and that Luke more often preserves the original order of the text than Matthew. In the two-source hypothesis, Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q as sources. Some scholars have postulated that Q is actually a plurality of sources, some written and some oral. Others have attempted to determine the stages in which Q was composed.
The existence of Q has been questioned. The omission of what should have been a highly treasured dominical document from all the early Church catalogs, and from mention by the fathers of the early Church, might be seen as a great conundrum of modern Biblical scholarship. However, copying Q might have been seen as unnecessary as it was preserved in the gospels that were considered canonical. Hence it was preferable to copy Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the sayings of Jesus from Q were rephrased to avoid misunderstandings, and to fit their own situations and their understanding of what Jesus had really meant. Despite challenges, the two source hypothesis retains wide support.
Nineteenth-century New Testament scholars who rejected the traditional perspective of the priority of Matthew in favor of Markan priority speculated that the authors of Matthew and Luke drew the material they have in common with the Gospel of Mark from that Gospel. Matthew and Luke, however, also share large sections of text which are not found in Mark. They suggested that neither Gospel drew upon the other, but upon a second common source, termed the Q.
In modern times, the first person to hypothesize a Q-like source was an Englishman, Herbert Marsh, in 1801 in a complicated solution to the synoptic problem that his contemporaries ignored. Marsh labeled this source with the Hebrew letter beth (ב).
The next person to advance the Q hypothesis was the German Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1832, who interpreted an enigmatic statement by the early Christian writer Papias of Hierapolis, circa 125: "Matthew compiled the oracles (Greek: logia) of the Lord in a Hebrew manner of speech". Rather than the traditional interpretation that Papias was referring to the writing of Matthew in Hebrew, Schleiermacher believed that Papias was actually giving witness to a sayings collection that was available to the Evangelists.
In 1838 another German, Christian Hermann Weisse, took Schleiermacher's suggestion of a sayings source and combined it with the idea of Markan priority to formulate what is now called the Two-Source Hypothesis, in which both Matthew and Luke used Mark and the sayings source. Heinrich Julius Holtzmann endorsed this approach in an influential treatment of the synoptic problem in 1863, and the Two-Source Hypothesis has maintained its dominance ever since.
At this time, Q was usually called the Logia on account of the Papias statement, and Holtzmann gave it the symbol Lambda (Λ). Toward the end of the 19th century, however, doubts began to grow on the propriety of anchoring the existence of the collection of sayings in the testimony of Papias, so a neutral symbol Q (which was devised by Johannes Weiss based on the German Quelle, meaning source) was adopted to remain neutrally independent of the collection of sayings and its connection to Papias.
This two-source hypothesis speculates that Matthew borrowed from both Mark and a hypothetical sayings collection, called Q. For most scholars, the Q collection accounts for what Matthew and Luke share — sometimes in exactly the same words — but are not found in Mark. Examples of such material are the Devil's three temptations of Jesus, the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer and many individual sayings.
In The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (1924), Burnett Hillman Streeter argued that a third source, referred to as M and also hypothetical, lies behind the material in Matthew that has no parallel in Mark or Luke. Furthermore, some material present only in Luke might have come from an also unknown L source. This Four Source Hypothesis posits that there were at least four sources to the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke: the Gospel of Mark, and three lost sources: Q, M, and L. (M material is represented by green in the above chart.)
Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, there were various challenges and refinements of Streeter's hypothesis. For example, in his 1953 book The Gospel Before Mark, Pierson Parker posited an early version of Matthew (Aramaic M or proto-Matthew) as the primary source. Parker argued that it was not possible to separate Streeter's "M" material from the material in Matthew parallel to Mark.
In the first two decades of the 20th century, more than a dozen reconstructions of Q were made. However, these reconstructions differed so much from each other that not a single verse of Matthew was present in all of them. As a result, interest in Q subsided and it was neglected for many decades.
This state of affairs changed in the 1960s after translations of a newly discovered and analogous sayings collection, the Gospel of Thomas, became available. James M. Robinson of the Jesus Seminar and Helmut Koester proposed that collections of sayings such as Q and Gospel of Thomas represented the earliest Christian materials at an early point in a trajectory that eventually resulted in the canonical gospels.
This burst of interest after the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas led to increasingly more sophisticated literary reconstructions of Q, and even to redactional speculation, notably in the work of John S. Kloppenborg. Kloppenborg, by analyzing certain literary and thematic phenomena, argued that Q was composed in three stages. In his view, the earliest stage was a collection of wisdom sayings involving such issues as poverty and discipleship. Then, he posits, this collection was expanded by including a layer of judgemental sayings directed against "this generation". The final stage included the Temptation of Jesus narrative.
Although Kloppenborg cautioned against assuming that the composition history of Q is the same as the history of the Jesus tradition (i.e., that the oldest layer of Q is necessarily the oldest and pure-layer Jesus tradition), some recent seekers of the Historical Jesus, including the members of the Jesus Seminar, have done just that. Basing their reconstructions primarily on the Gospel of Thomas and the oldest layer of Q, they propose that Jesus functioned as a wisdom sage, rather than a Jewish rabbi, though not all members affirm the two-source hypothesis. Kloppenborg is now a fellow of the Jesus Seminar himself.
However, scholars supporting the hypothesis of the three-stage historical development of Q, such as Burton L. Mack, argue that the unity of Q comes not only from its being shared by Matthew and Luke, but also because, in the layers of Q as reconstructed, the later layers build upon and presuppose the earlier ones, whereas the reverse is not the case. So evidence that Q has been revised is not evidence for disunity in Q, since the hypothesised revisions depend upon asymmetric logical connections between what are posited to be the later and earlier layers.
In the study of biblical literature, some scholars believe that an unknown redactor composed a Greek-language proto-Gospel. It may have been in circulation in written form about the time of the composition of the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., between 65 and 95 AD). The name Q was coined by the German theologian and biblical scholar Johannes Weiss.
The relationship among the three synoptic gospels goes beyond mere similarity in viewpoint. The gospels often recount the same stories, usually in the same order, sometimes using the same words. Scholars note that the similarities between Mark, Matthew, and Luke are too great to be accounted for by mere coincidence.
If the two-source hypothesis is correct, then Q would probably have been a written document. If Q were merely a shared oral tradition, it is unlikely that it could account for the nearly identical word-for-word similarities between Matthew and Luke when quoting Q material. Similarly, it is possible to deduce that Q was written in Greek. If the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were referring to a document that had been written in some other language (for example Aramaic), it is highly unlikely that two independent translations would have exactly the same wording.
The Q document must have been composed prior to the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke. Some scholars even suggest Q may have predated Mark. A date for the final Q document is often placed in the 40s or 50s of the first century, with some arguing its so-called sapiential layer (1Q, containing six wisdom speeches) being written as early as the 30s.
If Q did exist, it has since been lost. Some scholars believe it can be partially reconstructed by examining elements common to Matthew and Luke (but absent from Mark). This reconstructed Q is notable in that it generally does not describe the events of the life of Jesus: Q does not mention Jesus' birth, his selection of the 12 disciples, his crucifixion, or the resurrection. Instead, it appears to be a collection of Jesus' sayings and quotations.
The existence of Q follows from the argument that neither Matthew nor Luke is directly dependent on the other in the double tradition (defined by New Testament scholars as material that Matthew and Luke share that does not appear in Mark). However, the verbal agreement between Matthew and Luke is so close in some parts of the double tradition that the most reasonable explanation for this agreement is common dependence on a written source or sources. Even if Matthew and Luke are independent (see Markan priority), the Q hypothesis states that they used a common document. Arguments for Q being a written document include:
The fact that no manuscripts of Q exist today does not necessarily argue against its having existed. Many texts of early Christianity are no longer extant, and we only know they did exist due to their citation or their mention in texts which have survived. Once the text of Q was incorporated into the body of Matthew and Luke, it was no longer necessary to preserve it, just as interest in copying Mark seems to have waned out substantially once it was incorporated into Matthew. The editorial board of the International Q Project writes: "During the second century, when the canonizing process was taking place, scribes did not make new copies of Q, since the canonizing process involved choosing what should and what should not be used in the church service. Hence they preferred to make copies of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the sayings of Jesus from Q were rephrased to avoid misunderstandings, and to fit their own situations and their understanding of what Jesus had really meant."
Although most scholars accept the Two-source Hypothesis, many have never been entirely happy with it. The difficulty tends to center around Q. The Two-source Hypothesis explains the double tradition by postulating the existence of a lost "sayings of Jesus" document known as Q. It is this, rather than Markan priority, which forms the distinctive feature of the hypothesis.
While this hypothesis remains the most popular explanation for the origins of the synoptic gospels, the existence of the "minor agreements" has raised serious concerns. These minor agreements are those points where Matthew and Luke agree against or beyond Mark precisely within their Markan verses (for example, the mocking question at the beating of Jesus, "Who is it that struck you?" [Luke 22:64 // Matt 26:68], found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; though it should be noted that this "minor agreement" falls outside the usually accepted range of Q). The "minor agreements" thus call into question the proposition that Matthew and Luke knew Mark but not each other, e.g. Luke might have indeed been following Matthew, or at least a Matthew-like source. Peabody and McNicol argue that until a reasonable explanation is found the Two-source Hypothesis is not viable.
Secondly, how could a major and respected source, used in two canonical gospels, disappear? If Q did exist, these sayings of Jesus would have been highly treasured in the early Church. It remains a mystery how such an important document, which was the basis of two canonical Gospels, could be lost. An even greater mystery is why the extensive Church catalogs compiled by Eusebius and Nicephorus would omit such an important work yet include such spurious accounts as the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas. The existence of a treasured sayings document in circulation going unmentioned by the Fathers of the early Church remains one of the great conundrums of modern Biblical scholarship. Pier Franco Beatrice argues that until these issues are resolved, Q will remain in doubt.
Some scholars argue that Matthew's Gospel according to the Hebrews was the basis for the Synoptic Tradition. They point out that in the first section of De Viris Illustribus (Jerome), we find the Gospel of Mark where it should be as it was the first gospel written and was the basis of later gospels. Following it should be Q. But not only is Q not where it should be at the top of Jerome's list, this treasured work recording the Logia of Christ is mentioned nowhere by Jerome. Rather, the first seminal document is not Q but the Gospel according to the Hebrews. In "the place of honor" that should be given "the phantom Q" we find a Hebrew usurper.
Austin Farrer, Michael Goulder, and Mark Goodacre have also argued against Q, maintaining Markan priority, claiming the use of Matthew by Luke. This view has come to be known as the Farrer hypothesis. Their arguments include:
Other scholars have brought other arguments against Q:
Some of the more notable portions of the New Testament are believed to have originated in Q: