The Synoptic Problem and the Non-existence of Q

1. Hidden Patterns in the Synoptic Gospels
2. Matthew, the Revisionist
3. The Man who Buried Jesus
4. Matthew's Knowledge of Luke
5. Luke, the Eccentric Evangelist
6. The Weak Case for the Existence of Q
7. Further Statistical Analysis
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~ Chapter 6 ~

The Weak Case for the Existence of Q


Thus far we have explored the nature of the Synoptic Problem, and the inability of the 2DH and conventional alternative theories to resolve the data. It remains for us to examine the merits of the arguments that are commonly advanced in support of the Q theory. Of course, logic demands that, in order to justify the assumption of Q’s existence, one must begin with a demonstration that the double tradition cannot exist due to either Luke or Matthew’s direct reliance upon the other. If this premise could be determined beyond reasonable doubt, a foundation for the Q theory would be established. But this approach to the problem is not found in modern writings on Q. Scholars habitually overlook the possibility that Matthew could have known Luke due to a common perception that Matthew’s use of Luke must have been considered and dismissed on credible grounds long ago. It is assumed to be a moot issue since no significant school ever materialized to argue on its behalf. John Kloppenborg, perhaps the best known contemporary advocate of the 2DH, does not mention Matthean posteriority in his summary of potential Synoptic solutions:

... several solutions to the Synoptic Problem are logically possible: those in which Mark is medial. Each of the major hypotheses—the 2DH, Griesbach, Farrer-Goulder, and “Augustinian” hypotheses—offer logically possible accountings for the Synoptic data. The real point of disagreement among Synoptic Problem specialists is not what is logically possible, but which hypotheses imply plausible editorial procedures on the part of the evangelists. In my view, it is far easier to accommodate the few significant minor agreements against Mark, for which various, if not completely satisfying explanations have been proposed, than it is to accept a Luke who drastically rearranged Matthew, or a Mark who conflated and abbreviated Matthew and Luke and in doing so darkened the portrait of Jesus’ family and disciples. Advocates of the other hypotheses, all fair-minded and careful scholars, evidently do not sense these difficulties so acutely and hence the Synoptic Problem remains a problem.[1]  

In point of fact, the Synoptic Problem remains a problem because the true solution has not been admitted into the arena of possible alternatives. Kloppenborg’s assessment is that the idea of a hypothetical Q source is logically preferable to the theories arguing for Luke’s use of Matthew. This is certainly true as far as it goes, and such a finding is reasonable if the universe of solutions is limited to those alternatives. The same argument appears in Helmut Koester’s commentary:

All attempts to disprove the two-source hypothesis favor the priority of Matthew….. This is a very problematic position, burdened with great difficulties, especially with regard to the sayings materials of Matthew’s Gospel. In most instances, very good arguments can be brought forward to show that the Gospel of Luke has preserved more original forms of the sayings shared by Matthew and Luke; thus Matthew cannot have been the source of these Lukan sayings. Moreover, if there was no common sayings source shared by Matthew and Luke, an explanation of the source or sources, of Matthew’s sayings must still work with the assumption of some earlier document(s) through which these sayings came to the author of the First Gospel. Scholars who deny the existence of a Synoptic Sayings Source still have to find a theory by which the transmission of the sayings to the author of Matthew’s Gospel can be explained. In other words, the rejection of the two-source hypothesis [herein, 2DH] solves nothing and creates new riddles for which even more complex and more improbable hypotheses have to be proposed.[2]

Since in Koester’s view there are “good arguments” to show that Luke could not have been dependent on Matthew, he suggests that it is a mystery how Luke’s double tradition material could have been transmitted to Matthew’s Gospel except via access to a common Q source. As with Kloppenborg, Koester does not acknowledge in his summary statement the possibility that Matthew may have known Luke. It is regarded as such an obvious impossibility that it is not worthy of mention. Yet Matthean posteriority is a comprehensive solution to the Synoptic Problem that has been barred from the discussion based upon nothing more than traditional academic prejudice against it. The result is that contemporary dialogue on the Synoptic Problem is reduced to an odd spectacle in which nothing but improbable solutions are brought to the table for discussion. It is no surprise that the 2DH generally wins by default as the least offensive of poorly conceived hypotheses.

Is there a compelling argument for the existence of Q? If we could identify any textual phenomena that are resolvable by the 2DH, but inexplicable under Matthean posteriority, it would render the 2DH more credible. Yet no such data exist. To the contrary, though many observations have been made that appear to support the 2DH, in each instance Matthean posteriority is equally potent, and on occasion more comprehensive, in its ability to resolve the data at hand. This can be illustrated with a sequential review of the conventional arguments made in favor of the 2DH.


The Case for the Existence of Q

The previous quotation from Koester is an opening preamble for his review of evidence that justifies the assumption of Q’s existence. He follows that statement with three observations that he claims “argue strongly for the existence of a Synoptic Sayings Source and its use by Matthew and Luke.” The first of them is as follows:

What Matthew and Luke share in addition to their common Markan pericopes consists almost exclusively of sayings. The only exceptions are: one miracle story (Matt 8:5-13 = Luke 7:1-10), materials about John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism (parts of Matt. 3:1-17 = Luke 3:2-9, 16-17, 21-22), and the story of Jesus’ temptation (Matt 4:1-11 = Luke 4:1-13). This requires the assumption of a common source which consisted mostly of sayings of Jesus and probably of some other shared non-Markan materials.[3]

The first portion of this observation is a simple statement of fact—the double tradition does indeed consist primarily of Jesus’ sayings. However, in the last sentence, Koester makes a leap without justification—the fact that the double tradition consists mostly of sayings is alleged to “require the assumption of a common source which consisted mostly of sayings of Jesus.” Logically speaking, it does not. It requires the assumption that (a) either Matthew or Luke copied from the other, or (b) both copied from a common source. Koester’s previous statement argues against Luke’s use of Matthew, but remains silent on Matthew’s use of Luke. Unless one can dismiss the latter as a possibility, one cannot draw a valid conclusion that Q is the only viable solution.

Koester’s second observation in favor of the existence of Q is this:

The numerous verbal agreements of these parallel passages cannot be explained as dependence of either Matthew upon Luke or dependence of Luke upon Matthew because in numerous instances Luke’s version is evidently the more original one. But there are also passages in which Matthew rather than Luke has preserved words and phrases which cannot be explained as the product of Matthew’s editorial work.[4]

 Here Koester acknowledges that Matthew’s potential use of Luke must be dismissed in order for the 2DH to stand as a valid theory. To argue this point he notes that there are occasional elements in Matthew’s double tradition material that cannot have been derived from Matthew’s editing of Luke. Once again, the factual observation is correct but the inference is not. There are indeed instances in which Matthew records a more original form, and Luke appears to have recorded a later edited version. However Koester’s inference from this that Matthew did not know Luke is another unjustified leap.

To illustrate, let us return to the parallelisms we just considered in the previous chapter (The House Built upon the Rock, and Treasures of Heaven, p.119).  Matthew’s versions of these sayings are presented in the form of a structured parallelism, whereas Luke renders them in prose. It is generally assumed that Matthew’s parallelisms are the earlier forms of the sayings. May we reasonably infer from this that Matthew could not have been using Luke as a source? Not at all. Matthew may have been aware of both the parallel form of the saying and Luke’s prose rendering of it, and opted to include the parallel form for any number of reasons. Perhaps he viewed the structured form as more authentic; perhaps it was a favored tradition within his community; perhaps the poetic structure had more aesthetic appeal to him. It does not matter. What does matter is that Matthew’s infrequent use of an early form of a saying which has a later counterpart in Luke indicates nothing about Matthew’s awareness of Luke. For it is certain that Matthew would have known various forms of numerous sayings, one version appearing in Luke and another in a different oral or written source. That he would sometimes opt for variants he may have considered earlier, or more authentic, or more popular in his community than those recorded by Luke is to be expected. The result would be that, on occasion, Matthew would use an earlier form than Luke. Meanwhile, his direct editing of Luke would create a body of double tradition sayings in which, as Koester describes, “in numerous instances Luke’s version is evidently the more original one.”

Koester presents this observation as one which “argues strongly for the existence of a Synoptic Saying Source and its use by Matthew and Luke.” In reality, in order to sustain this argument one must presuppose the existence of Q, and presuppose that the data uniquely fit the theory, all the while ignoring a simpler and more direct explanation of the textual phenomenon. It is circular logic.

Koester continues:

Indeed, in some instances what is certainly original in a particular saying may occur partially in Luke and partially in Matthew. A striking example of this is  [Matthew 7:23 = Luke 13:27] The second half of this saying is a quotation of Psalm 6:8. But while the first words of the sentence from this psalm are accurately preserved only in Luke, the last words of the quotation have an exact parallel only in Matthew. One must assume that there was a common source used by both authors and that this common source quotes the sentence exactly as it occurred in Ps. 6:8.[5]

This argument illustrates the extent to which advocates of the Q theory may be inattentive to alternative explanations for observed data. If one presupposes the existence of Q, one will believe with Koester that Q must have been the source used by both authors that contained the sentence exactly as it occurred in Psalms 6:8. On the other hand, those unconvinced of Q’s existence might suppose the common source to have been the Septuagint[6], which is certain to have been used by both Matthew and Luke. Here we might imagine that Matthew sees the quotation in Luke, and in cross-referencing a Greek translation of the Psalm finds a preferred way to present the saying. Yet Koester interprets the citation of Ps 6:8 as evidence that Matthew and Luke must necessarily have drawn from Q.

The third of Koester’s observations for the existence of Q is this:

The sequence in which certain groups of sayings occur in the Gospel of Luke often reveals an association and composition of sayings that is more directly related to the process of the collection of oral materials, while Matthew interrupts or disturbs such sequences whenever his motivations as an author of literature are evident. In his version of Jesus’ speech for the “sending of the disciples” (Matt 9:37-11:1), Matthew parallels Luke in the reproduction of a series of sayings which instruct missionaries with respect to their conduct. But he repeatedly interpolates materials which belong to other contexts and often do not fit the genre of an older collection of originally oral sayings.


Q/Luke 10:2-12 exhibits all the features of an early collection of rules for the conduct of the missionary. Its composition most likely took place in the oral transmission of such regulations, and Q still reflects the loose connection of such a unit of tradition. That Matthew’s text is the result of a secondary redaction, revealing the use of written sources, is evident in the manner of his composition. He employed one primary source, i.e., Q, still intact in Luke’s version, in which he included additional materials which were mostly drawn from his other major source, i.e., Mark, then adding materials drawn from other contexts of both sources. In the case of Mark, the materials which Matthew used from his collection of rules about missionaries appear in the same sequence. But in the case of Q, Matthew changed their original order.[7]

Once again, the missing logical element is that which would require us to presume that Matthew used Q instead of Luke. For there would have been no difference in Matthew’s results had he drawn from Q, or from the Gospel of Luke in which Q allegedly remains “intact.” The fact is that Koester describes, though perhaps inadvertently, the process by which Matthew conflated Mark and Luke, reorganizing and editing Luke’s materials to contextualize them into a Markan framework. Absent a proof that Matthew did not know Luke, this description of Matthew’s editorial procedure lends no weight to the theory that the authors drew from Q. In circular fashion, the existence of Q must be presupposed in order to make the case for its existence.

In summary, Koester’s observations that are alleged to argue strongly for the existence of a Synoptic Sayings Source do not in fact do so. Each of his observations can be interpreted and resolved within the context of the simpler alternative that Matthew conflated Mark and Luke. Koester is by no means unusual in this. Many Q advocates exhibit the same tendency to seize upon questionable data and ascribe to them decisive evidentiary value beyond that which they can sustain under critical examination. Consider this observation by Arland Jacobson which appears at the beginning of his discussion on the literary unity of Q:

…we may note one small but very striking example of the distinctive usage of Q over against that of Mark. In Q, the quotation formula, “I say to you,” never occurs with the word “truly” ….. In fact, the word “truly” does not occur anywhere in Q; at least, there is no double attestation of it. But Mark has fourteen instances of the “I say to you” formula, and in all but two he has “truly.”  In at least one case the absence of “truly” is easily explained: it is used in the previous verse. The consistency of Markan usage is as dramatic as the fact that “truly” is never found in Q, even though it occurs often in Matthew and six times in Luke. Not only does this illustrate the difference in usage between Mark and Q, but it is also a potent argument for the Two-document hypothesis.[8]

 If one already accepts the 2DH on other grounds, this argument is compelling. It appears on its surface to be a substantive affirmation of the theory. However, those not yet convinced of Q’s existence will dig a bit deeper. Is this really a potent argument for the 2DH? Can the observation be explained apart from the existence of Q?

An answer is to be found in Luke’s redactional use of Mark. Of the thirteen instances of the phrase “Truly, I say to you” that are found in Mark, only three are duplicated by Luke. In point of fact, Luke does not appear to favor the use of this phrase. He typically either deletes it or modifies it when he is drawing a saying from a Markan text in which it appears. There is one striking occurrence to the contrary, in which Luke adds this phrase to a Markan saying where it does not exist in Mark (Mark 6:4=Luke 4:24). However, Luke most frequently omits truly as part of the quotation formula, if not the formula altogether.

If the phrase “truly I say to you” was a uniquely popular quotation formula within the community behind the Markan tradition, we may reasonably surmise that the non-Markan sources Luke drew from may not have featured it. Furthermore, on those occasions in which it might have appeared in his non-Markan sources, Luke would have tended to omit it as he often did with his Markan source. Thus, the fact that truly is relatively scarce in Luke is unremarkable. Moreover, if Matthew drew his double tradition material directly from Luke rather than Q, there is no mystery in the fact that the non-Markan material he copied over from Luke did not contain the word truly. This would have produced a double tradition in which truly does not appear. Thus, once again, we find an observation that is alleged to be a “potent argument” for the 2DH is really no argument at all. The data can be comfortably explained without any reference to Q.

One of the remarkable aspects of the debate on the Synoptic Problem is that scholars are very close to recognizing that the theoretical Q Gospel as it is envisioned by the IQP, and the double tradition as it appears in Luke are practically identical. As Koester notes above, there is general accord among Q theorists that Luke best preserves the sequence of the Q sayings as they originally appeared in Q, while Matthew liberally reorganizes the material. Kloppenborg observes:

Matthew has clusters of double tradition materials that in Luke are scattered, but nonetheless, Matthew presents the sayings in Lukan order, as if he had scanned Q, lifting out and collecting sayings as he found them in Q.”[9]

Little imagination is required to conclude that Matthew could as easily have scanned Luke directly to achieve the same result. There is also a broad consensus that Luke far more frequently records an earlier version of a Q saying than does Matthew. These observations are consistent with the theory that Matthew was drawing upon Luke. 

It is interesting to note that if the author of Matthew used Luke, then by definition he was the final redactor of “Q” as it is defined in modern scholarship. Matthew’s editorial decisions to reproduce some portions of Luke’s non-Markan text and exclude others would have defined the boundaries of the double tradition. Under this scenario the “Q document” as reconstructed by the IQP should have a perceptible Matthean bias. Thus Burton Mack’s observation is intriguing:

If one were to ask which of the narrative gospels most nearly represents an ethos toward which the community of Q may have tended, it would be the Gospel of Matthew.”[10]

Under the 2DH an ideological affinity between the primitive Q Gospel and the Gospel of Matthew is nothing more than a coincidence. Under the theory of Matthean posteriority, Matthew defined the content of the double tradition, and therefore an “ethos” toward the Gospel of Matthew would have been unavoidable.

Traditional Arguments in Support of the 2DH

The observations cited above do not represent the full complement of arguments that have been put forth in support of the 2DH. Many observations have been made which have collectively persuaded the majority of scholars of the probability of Q’s existence. These observations, for the most part, either illustrate the superior resolving power of the 2DH as compared to theories promoting Luke’s use of Matthew, or argue for the status of Q as a written document rather than an oral source. Since Matthean posteriority has not been viewed as an alternative, it has gone unnoticed that the textual phenomena advanced in support of the 2DH can always be resolved by Matthean posteriority. The case for the existence of Q consists of a random assortment of anecdotal observations that individually and collectively are insufficient to support the theory, for they all beg the fundamental question of Matthew’s knowledge of Luke. Other than the arguments reviewed thus far, the common arguments for Q’s existence are these:

Peculiar phrases in common. It has been observed that Matthew and Luke on occasion use certain phrases in common in the double tradition that constitute unusual grammatical constructs. It is suggested that both Matthew and Luke reproduced theses phrases from Q. However, it is evident that if Matthew had a propensity to copy unusual constructs from Q, he would have had an equal propensity to copy them from Luke. Indeed, Matthew tends to reproduce his sources verbatim unless there is a specific reason to alter them for ideological reasons, or to eliminate extraneous language. If Luke had incorporated peculiar grammatical constructs that were present in written sources he had before him, or if he had introduced them himself in the process of transcribing oral traditions, it is not unlikely that Matthew would have taken them over directly. The result would be a double tradition that featured unusual phrases introduced into the Gospel record by Luke.

Common sequence of double tradition pericopae. Many of the double tradition sayings appear in the same sequence in both Gospels. It is often alleged that this indicates the use of a common written source by both evangelists. However, if both authors achieved a similar sequence of sayings by progressively scanning and copying from Q, then Matthew would have achieved the same result by progressively scanning and copying from Luke. This argument, like those of frequent verbal agreements and the presence of peculiar phrases, could be relevant in establishing the “written” nature of the Q source if and only if the independence of Matthew and Luke could be established on other grounds. Absent such a proof, these phenomena are as easily explained by both theories.

The presence of the doublets.[11] Do the doublets constitute evidence of Q’s existence? No. Let us first acknowledge that it is not often evident why the authors chose to duplicate certain sayings. On occasion they may have been duplicated for special emphasis, or to create a literary frame or set of “parentheses” in the text for interpretive purposes. Some appear to represent two slightly different forms of the sayings that the authors may have wished to document. Perhaps they wanted to present them in two different contexts. It is also possible that on occasion, given the vast inventory of raw material, they were simply duplicated in error. Given the array of sources available to the authors, the simple fact that doublets are present in both Gospels is not particularly surprising. What is more noteworthy is that both authors duplicate a number of the same sayings. What might be the most logical accounting of this phenomenon?

Despite some conceivable rationales, it does not seem probable that both authors would independently duplicate the same sayings no matter what reason they may have had to do so. The circumstances under which this may have occurred are worth pondering. The 2DH argues that the two authors, either by design or error, independently drew common sets of doublets, one each from Mark and Q respectively. Practically speaking, this does not have much intuitive appeal.

Consider, then, that Matthew drew upon both Mark and Luke. In this situation, Luke would have created a set of doublets in his own Gospel by drawing one saying from Mark, and another from one of the many oral and written sources he had at his disposal. Whether this was done by design or error is immaterial. In either case, this produces an interesting scenario: Matthew was using two sources in which a number of sayings appeared three times—once in Mark and twice in Luke. If Matthew compiled his Gospel using these two sources, the odds of duplicating some of the sayings that appeared in triplicate, either intentionally or erroneously, would have been increased to some degree. Under this scenario it would not be surprising to find that Matthew would produce a greater array of doublets than does Luke, with the Lukan doublets comprising a subset of those found in Matthew. Such is indeed the case. Since the phenomenon of the doublets can be explained by assuming Matthew’s direct use of Luke, it cannot be cited as evidence for the existence of Q.

Luke is never aware of the modifications and expansions that Matthew makes to his Markan source. This statement of fact is a compelling argument against the proposal that Luke knew Matthew. Hence, it is among the important observations that favor the 2DH over all theories which argue that Luke was dependent upon Matthew. However, it has no evidentiary value in weighing the 2DH against Matthean posteriority. Clearly, if Matthew was the last of the three Synoptics to be composed, Luke would have had no awareness of Matthean expansions to Mark.

Luke would have removed all Q sayings from their Markan context in Matthew. Q theorists point to several phenomena that suggest peculiar editorial behavior on the part of the author of Luke, were he to have relied upon Matthew as a source. This is one of them. However, this argument only casts doubt upon one direction of potential dependence between Matthew and Luke, that of Luke upon Matthew. There is no difficulty in imagining that Matthew used Luke as a source and in so doing, intentionally recast Luke’s non-Markan sayings into Markan contexts. Indeed, based upon several observations already discussed, this is precisely what he did.

The Gospel of Thomas. Some scholars have argued that the discovery of Thomas increases the likelihood of Q’s existence as a discrete collection of sayings. Thomas certainly does illustrate that at least one collection of Jesus’ sayings had been compiled prior to the end of the second century. However, the common inferences drawn from this fact—that Thomas must represent just one example of a genre of Jesus literature, that its lack of narrative form and replication of certain double tradition sayings suggest composition in the mid-first century, that Q must therefore have been another example of the same literary genre—are not adequately founded.

Two objections may be made in response to the Thomas argument. First, it is not obvious that Thomas and Q are examples of a common genre of sayings literature. Thomas consists entirely of sayings that are explicitly attributed to Jesus. Jesus is the supreme oracle in Thomas; his name appears 105 times in this work. On the other hand, the IQP’s proposed Q text is a miscellaneous assortment of wisdom, philosophical, and apocalyptic sayings that are, for the most part, attributed to no one. Diverse fragments of narrative structure appear in Q, whereas there are none in Thomas. Remarkably, the name of Jesus appears only five times in Q via double attestation. Four of those are in pericopae manifesting evident narrative form (three in the temptation pericope, and one in the healing of the centurion’s son). Only in one instance is Jesus’ name used in the context of an explicit saying attribution in a form similar to those found throughout Thomas. Therefore, Q does not portray Jesus as an inspiring oracular figure in the manner of Thomas. Oddly enough, the name of John the Baptist occurs more frequently in the IQP’s Q text than does the name of Jesus. To suggest that Q and Thomas are examples of a common genre of Jesus sayings literature is to mischaracterize the evidence. On this observation alone it is difficult to see any substantive nexus between Thomas and Q on the grounds of literary genre that would bear upon the probability of Q’s existence.

Second, there is circularity in the reasoning related to Thomas as well. The document cannot be dated with certainty to the first century. Though its discovery inspired speculation regarding the existence of a first century “Sayings Gospel genre”, the only potential indicators of the existence of such a genre are Thomas and Q. Since Thomas may be a second century work and the evidence that Q existed is tenuous, there is no firm evidence that a Sayings Gospel genre existed during or prior to the composition of the narrative Gospels. At some point, theory needs to be grounded in factual data. Since the data are not available, the idea that Thomas sheds some relevant light upon the existence and/or nature of Q is without merit.

Literary unity in the double tradition. Another of the circular argu-ments used to sustain the 2DH is this: If Q was indeed a discrete Gospel, then the text of Q should bear signs of literary unity; therefore the discovery of “unities” in the text may in turn be used to confirm Q’s existence. Thus, we find claims such as Jacobson’s, wherein the absence of the word truly in the double tradition could be cited as a substantive argument for the 2DH. The logical fallacy in the argument from literary unity is the failure to ask if there are other means by which evidence of literary cohesion may have come to exist in the double tradition other than by its alleged origin in Q.

A fundamental observation must be made at this point: The double tradition is clearly not a random collection of miscellaneous pericopae, regardless of its literary origin. If Q did not exist, Luke would have compiled his non-Markan materials from an assortment of collected oral traditions and written notes. The process of selecting, organizing and editing this material would have imparted some degree of ideological and grammatical form to the material. If Matthew were then to have used Luke as a source, his subsequent scanning, selection, and editing of the non-Markan materials in Luke would have added further contours and definition to what would eventually be interpreted as the double tradition. It is not realistic to assume that the double tradition, having gone through two editorial filters under this scenario, would not manifest any characteristics of literary and ideological unity except those which might be attributable to an origin in Q.

Thus, Q theorists face a daunting task. In order to cite literary unity in the double tradition as evidence of the existence of Q, it must be demonstrated that ideological and/or grammatical content is present that cannot have been the result of the material passing through two successive editorial filters. The “Q document” must be shown to manifest literary integrity as a work by a single redactor. Unfortunately for Q theorists, the data do not support this proposition. To the contrary, scholars have found it necessary to posit three successive redactions of the Q document in order to adequately explain the diversity of its content. Nevertheless, Q theorists persist in the attempt to identify alleged unities in the text. Jacobson believes he has identified a deuteronomistic motif in the double tradition:

The suggestion is at hand that it is the deuteronomistic tradition which provides the theological framework for the redaction of Q, and thus is the theological basis for its literary unity.[12]

 Kloppenborg attempts to mitigate this claim to some degree while at the same time affirming Jacobson’s conclusion:

It will be noticed that deuteronomistic influence is in fact restricted to a relatively few passages; large portions of Q (including 6:20b-49 and 10:2-12, 16, notwithstanding Jacobson’s attempt to label either a “call to repentance”) lack this motif. Nevertheless, Jacobson’s observations are of utmost significance since they are coupled with a redaction-critical judgment that this theology dominated one stage of Q redaction. Hence, although he has not attempted to prove that deuteronomistic theology pervades the whole of Q, Jacobson successfully demonstrates that at one point in its literary evolution, Q was organized and redacted from a coherent theological perspective. This redaction lends to the collection an important theological unity.[13]

Here is an example of the Q theorist seeing data through Q-colored lenses. When Q’s existence is assumed, the data must be resolvable under the Q hypothesis. If Q existed as a single literary document, one may assume that it was created within a coherent ideological context. Q theorists thus reach to identify that context, being tethered by the reality of the data at hand. In Kloppenborg’s statement the tension between observable fact and desired outcome is palpable. The facts as acknowledged by Kloppenborg are that “large portions of Q lack [the deuteronomistic] motif” and “deuteronomistic influence is restricted to a relatively few passages.” Q theorists assume that these relatively few passages were compiled at a discrete redactional stage in Q’s chronological development. Yet, it is the obvious lack of literary unity in the double tradition that requires the assumption of multiple redactional stages to begin with. From the premise that one subset of the Q corpus was redacted under the influence of deuteronomistic thought, Kloppenborg makes a breathtaking leap to the conclusion that this “lends to the collection an important theological unity.” No, it does not. There is no logical nexus between the data and the conclusion. Even Kloppenborg’s reference to the double tradition as a collection is rhetorically unjustified as there is no evidence that it ever existed as a collection until Luke collected it and Matthew defined its boundaries. Yet to those already convinced of Q’s existence, a literary unity must exist—it cannot be otherwise. Thus, it is simply declared to exist, despite the paucity of evidence and frailty of the logic.

Within the context of Matthean posteriority, the data that suggest literary unities can be resolved by assuming that Luke assembled a variety of oral and written traditions that had evolved independently over time, bearing no literary association with one another until being incorporated into Luke’s Gospel. Matthew’s subsequent application of, among other things, an “anti-universalist” editorial filter to Luke resulted in a double tradition that, as a discrete collection of sayings, is somewhat provincial in outlook. It is as remarkable for what it does not contain as what it does. Though one might claim that the lack of Pauline influence lends the material a tenuous theological “unity,” the phenomenon is not related to the existence of Q.


The Inadequacy of the Two-Document Hypothesis

All hypotheses must ultimately be judged by their ability to resolve the observable data. Despite the popularity of the 2DH, it is uniquely ineffective at explaining important features of the Synoptic texts. The 2DH cannot explain why Matthew and Luke each diverge from Mark when the other does not; it cannot explain why Matthew’s texts are often assembled from elements in Mark and Luke, whereas Luke’s texts are never created from elements in Mark and Matthew; it cannot explain why Luke would have been motivated to paraphrase the sayings of Jesus in Mark while copying them verbatim from Q; it cannot explain why the Q material would have had a distinctively Matthean bias; it can only explain the minor agreements as a series of coincidences and by appeal to yet another hypothetical document.

In addition to the inability of the 2DH to resolve the textual data, there are other problems which remain unanswered. The 2DH cannot easily explain why the Gospel of Mark survived in the manuscript record as an original source document while all traces of the Q Gospel vanished. It cannot explain the absence of references to a sayings collection in the surviving early Church writings. Moreover, there is a fundamental mystery that is too easily overlooked. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are the two most extensive treatises on the life of Jesus to have survived from the first century. Both were published by large, resourceful, outwardly focused evangelical communities promoting Jesus of Nazareth as the resurrected Messiah who would soon return at the culmination of the age. According to the 2DH, both of these communities held the Gospel of Mark and the Q Gospel in high esteem as primary documents of faith. All of this suggests that there must have been at least some degree of communication between the communities of Matthew and Luke. How then could it have come to pass that the publication of either Matthew or Luke in one community would have entirely escaped notice in the other? Such a scenario would seem to be impossible. Yet the Q theory asks us to believe that this is what must have happened.



Matthew’s objective was to produce a Gospel with the same majestic narrative scope as Luke, while eliminating Luke’s redundancies and replacing many of his key traditions with more eloquent renderings. As compared to Luke, Matthew broadens Jesus’ ethical vision, enhances the mythical drama of the Jesus story, and amplifies eschatological expectations. He builds upon Luke’s traditions in virtually every category of thought. He attempts to resolve thorny issues on which Luke remained silent. Most importantly, he defined Jesus’ legacy as one to be interpreted as a preordained fulfillment of mainstream Jewish history with decidedly anti-Jewish ramifications. As the Jews resisted the benevolent Roman authorities, they also resisted God, and rejected his Messiah. In the Gospel of Matthew, God, Rome, and Christianity begin to emerge as a holy alliance, and the Jews become the enemies of all three.

Virtually all of the textual data comprising the Synoptic Problem can be resolved by positing one overarching motivation on the part of the authors of Matthew: they intended to create a Gospel that would supersede Luke and become the grandest, most definitive Gospel of the evolving institutional Church. Given that the Church would eventually reward their effort by granting Matthew the honored first position in the New Testament, it is evident that they achieved their objective.

Yet their creative use of Mark and Luke produced what would become for us a monumental quirk of fate. By diligently selecting and reworking significant portions of Luke, the authors of Matthew defined the boundaries of a double tradition that would appear to researchers two thousand years hence to have been drawn from a mysterious and primitive collection of sayings—a lost gospel compiled by some of Jesus’ earliest followers. By the end of the 20th century, the misbegotten foray into the mythical world of Q would lead researchers far astray in the quest for the historical Jesus.

The Q era in New Testament scholarship began in 1838. But from the outset, Weisse’s speculation concerning a lost sayings source lacked an adequate logical foundation. Matthean posteriority, though long ignored, will in time be recognized as a more comprehensive theory that surpasses the 2DH in its ability to resolve the data. It is as elegant in its simplicity as it is thorough in its resolving power. Thus, an appeal to the logic of Ockham’s Razor will ultimately favor Matthean posteriority as the true solution to the Synoptic Problem.

[1] Kloppenborg, Excavating Q, p. 43

[2] Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, p.130

[3] Ibid,  pp. 130-131

[4] Ibid, p. 131

[5] Ibid, p. 131

[6] Septuagint, or LXX, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible

[7] Ibid,  pp. 132-133,  emphasis added

[8] Jacobson, The First Gospel, p. 61-2, emphasis added

[9] Kloppenborg, Excavating Q, p. 59

[10]  Mack, The Lost Gospel, p. 173

[11] Matthew and Luke both contain replications of certain sayings in either identical or similar form. When a particular saying appears twice in a given Gospel, it is referred to as a doublet. This phenomenon occurs with more frequency in Matthew than it does in Luke, and in some instances Matthew and Luke contain the same sets of doublets.

[12] Jacobson, The First Gospel, p. 72

[13] Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q, p. 93

From The Myth of the Lost Gospel, Evan Powell
Copyright (c) 2006, 2011