The Difference Makes Q

The definition of the ‘Q’ source is the source of the material found in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. But while the similarities constitute the substance of Q, the differences between Matthew and Luke provide the strongest argument for the existence of Q.

If it were simply a question of similarities, one could account for them reasonably in any number of ways – as evidence that Matthew used Luke (or vice versa), that both knew a common written source, that both knew the same oral traditions, that both heard Jesus say the same things, and so on.

It is the differences that make it unlikely that Matthew used Luke or vice versa. It is hard, on the supposition of such a literary link, to understand how they could end up with incompatible genealogies, incompatible infancy narratives, and incompatible accounts of the death of Judas. Differences and alterations could certainly be explained in terms of the hypothesis of direct literary dependence. But agreement on large segments, with variations that make sense in terms of the alteration of a saying for particular reasons, and yet disagreement on narrative and geneological details without any obvious reason for those differences, suggests that we are not dealing with direct literary dependence and redactional alterations.

Of course, indirect knowledge of one Gospel by the author of the other, mediated either by memory or by oral transmission, is a possibility that deserves consideration. The differences seem to definitively exclude only one possibility: that the author of either Matthew or Luke had the other’s Gospel open in front of him and used it as a source.

Perhaps on another occasion I’ll discuss the difference Q makes. For now, I simply wished to point out that the difference makes Q.

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  • Interesting way to look at the Q source.I have one thought that is kind of a devil’s advocate idea, but something I have also thought just based on the probabilities of what may have been really happening with the composition of the biblical narratives.Think of this in terms of blogging. When a story hits in which a bunch of people have equally high interest, they all start commenting on it and then commenting on each other’s comments about the same source.What if this is the same kind of thing with the gospel traditions. Mark “posted” something and then Matthew and Luke read it and said, “Hmmm interesting, but that’s not how I see it.” In this scenario could it be that not only is Q sitting there, but another Gospel? Each has a common experience with a text and then reimagines it, just like what happens in the blogosphere (just over a much longer period of time of course!).Just a thought and I am not sure off the top of my head how our current dating would screw the thought up, but it is something that I have thought of in very fleeting moments.

  • How much of the Q debate – and many similar debates as well – hinge o the fact that one researcher can’t “believe” that one author would so depart from a source while another researcher can “easily imagine” the author making such-and-such a decision?There are a lot of “seems”, “believes” and “imagines” floating around these discussions. Is this mere colloquial usage obscuring rigid logical and academic thinking or is the “art” of biblical study an exercise in personal credulity?I was raised with Q and so find it’s arguments comfortable. When someone like Mark Goodacre comes along and color-codes the Gospel, throwing around Greek grammatical references, I am quickly at a loss to make any judgment on merit. What I am left with is the tenor of the debate which “seems” fairly subjective.Of course, I am just a layman. Perhaps the very subjectiveness of the field is what is so attractive about it.

  • I’m in exactly the camp that Scott describes. To be specific, I can’t believe that Luke would depart from Matthew’s account of the sermon on the mount, break it into particles, then spread the particles in widely disparate places in his Gospel.I realize the arguments are much deeper than this, and turn on a host of details. I’m not a scholar, and I can’t comment on those details.But the sermon on the mount is arguably the most sublime passage of the entire New Testament. Only a cretin would shatter it into fragments: it’s akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.I agree with Doug at Metacatholic that the complex reconstructions of Q are implausible in the extreme. But of course that doesn’t debunk the core idea.