Who is “Q”? The Mythical World of Bible Scholars

Have you ever noticed that there is a breed of atheists who are also Bible scholars and then there are Bible scholars who seem to be atheists?

These non believers are believers in a special sort of way. They do not believe the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, but they do believe their particular theories about the Bible are infallible. When I lived in England I had a bust up with the famous Bible scholar Geza Vermez. I wrote a short and fairly mild review of one of his books for Amazon in which I pointed out some problems with his theory and basically undermined his whole argument. He actually wrote to the editor at Amazon demanding that my unfavorable review be pulled. You can read the review here if you’re interested.

Anyway, the modernist Bible scholars love to get down and pick over the New Testament. They’ve made an industry of it. There’s form criticism and source criticism and literary criticism and historical criticism. In fact, as the Holy Father has pointed out, much of their work has been excellent; it’s been done by serious and professional scholars, and we have learned an enormous amount about the Scriptures and their context as a result.

On the other hand, much of the work has been sketchy. Great theories have been formulated for which there is no real evidence. Books have been written by authors with a particular viewpoint to convey and particular sums to be made in the sale of books–and they’ve learned that if the results are controversial and undermine the faith, well, they sell more books and gain a bigger reputation. Far be it from me to suggest that this might be a motivation for such serious and objective scholars! However, it must be a temptation.

One of the favorite theories of the Bible scholars is that the books of the Bible are not really written by the people we think they’re written by. Instead, they were written much later by someone else and people assigned the names of the apostles to them.

This is where the make believe comes in: on the one hand the atheist Bible scholars say there is no evidence for the historicity of the New Testament. Well, that’s not really true. There is actually an enormous amount of evidence. We have far more ancient manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other ancient writings. Much of what is in the New Testament is also corroborated by other extra Biblical documentary sources, not to mention geographical and archeological sources. What do the scholars do? They make an industry out of picking those sources apart and showing how they can’t possibly be reliable. No one minds good scholarship and a proper critical method. That’s how we discover the truth in these matters–by testing the hypothesis and double checking the sources. However, when this is done with a negative mindset and atheistic assumptions the results will not only be negative, but ridiculous.

So, for example, we have the New Testament critics telling us that the gospels were composed from various sources. Matthew and Luke probably used Mark, but they also used other sources–notably one called ‘Q’. However, nobody has ever come up with any real evidence for ‘Q’. There’s no ancient manuscript which matches it. No ancient documents refer to these other source books. No ancient theologians refer to other source books that existed. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Here’s the hilarious thing about it all: the atheist Bible scholars have told us that we can’t trust the New Testament. It’s a collection of stories fabricated by someone, somewhere at some distant place in time but we don’t know who. So my question is, “Who is Q?” Who are these other gospel writers? Where did they live? What faith community did they come from? Where is the evidence that they existed? Where are the ancient manuscripts? Where are the secular historians who refer to them? Where are the ruins of the ancient libraries where their manuscripts were once housed? What creed did they follow and what schools did they attend? What was their link with the apostles? What missionary work did they do? What theologians did they study with? What church controversies were they involved with?

Ancient history of the time is full of events and people. Lots was happening. There were heretics and sects and schisms and councils and popes and bishops and monks and hermits and missionaries and martyrs. There were poets and theologians and scholars writing and debating.  But where are these fellows who wrote and edited the gospels and put Matthew, Mark and Luke’s name on them?

Oh, I know, they kept themselves secret because the work they were doing was fraudulent! Uh huh. Now we’re sounding like the conspiracy theorist who, when you point out the lack of evidence of an alien invasion say, “That just goes to show how good the government is at covering things up!!”

So those who demand “EVIDENCE!” from Christians end up believing in theories for which there is absolutely no evidence about the ancient world that has been cooked up in universities in just the last hundred years or so. We’re supposed to rubbish all the ancient evidence we do have and then believe in a modern theory that no one ever dreamed of for 1900 years for which there is no evidence at all.

And they say believers have blind faith?

The mystery still remains. What exactly is “Q”? For that matter who is “Q”?

Oh, I remember! He’s that gadget guy in the James Bond flicks.

  • http://www.scenesfromaslowmovingtrain.blogspot.com annie

    Well, I don’t know about any other Q but the one I do know, and who is a fan of yours, lives in Indianapolis and teaches freshman theology at a Catholic high school. It’s hard to get too wrought up over the mysterious Q of the atheist Bible scholars when the real McCoy Q is alive and well and I can claim him as my son. :-)

  • http://PortaCaeli Patricius

    I was unable to find your review at the link provided.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It’s there, you just have to scroll down the page.

  • JDH

    I think this settles the whole debate:

    • http://Www.SaintLouisAcupuncture.com Dr. Eric

      That might be the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

    • Alex

      I was going to post this but JDH beat me to it! On a related note: how sad is it that I knew from which episode of The Next Generation this pic of everyone’s favority omniscient, omnipotent pain-in-Picard’s-butt was culled?! (“Hide And Q”, for those of you who are interested; he’s wearing a never-again-seen version of a flag officer’s dress uniform, I believe.)

  • FW Ken

    These sorts of arguments strike me as rooted in fundamentalism more than anything. My question as a Catholic is not when the books were written, but whether the Church affirms them as the Word of God, giving me an opportunity to feed on it more than figure it out.

    Don’t get me wrong: many fundamentalists have my deep respect, but their approach to scripture is, to my mind, somewhat beside the point.

  • DoctorD

    Have you even read Bart Ehrman?
    Are do you just stand there at the pulpit shouting “I’m right! I’m right!”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      That’s the ‘Bart’ from the Simpsons television show right?

      • DoctorD

        So if you can’t argue logically, stoop to the level of name-calling.
        Shame on you.

  • Ron

    There’s better evidence for James Bond’s Q than there is for this mysterious document called Q!!

  • DavidCT

    I find this entry odd from a priest since it sounds more like the journalist Lee Strobel. The first point is your characterization of “Q” as some sort of atheist creation. It is speculated to have existed because there are parts of Matthew and Luke that agree on material which do not appear in Mark. There is no copy of such a document “Q” , but it would explain the agreement. This information could also have come from common oral tradition. Either way the question of “Q” is just part of an attempt to understand how the early bible came to be. For some reason you see understanding the history of the bible and how it came to be as some sort of atheist attack. It is hard to understand why you should feel this way.

    The last I heard there is no extra-biblical contemporary evidence to support the gospel stories. Has something new been found or are just making the assertion?

    As to the names of the authors of the gospels, main stream theologians agree that we do not know the authors. The fact that we do not know who assigned the names does not support the claim that they written by the “apostles” some 30-100 years after the death of Jesus. The great interpolation theologian, Eusebius might be a good candidate but I have no proof for you. In the case of “Luke” we actually have the bible to tell us who the author was not. The unnamed author of “Luke”, who also wrote Acts, makes it clear that he is not one of the mythical 12.

    This is not an atheist conspiracy. Why are you so threatened by what theologians both christian and secular have learned about your holy book?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Read the post again. I never said Biblical criticism was an atheist conspiracy, nor did I say Biblical scholarship was worthless. Just the reverse. My complaint is that atheists have abused Biblical scholarship to rubbish the Bible and that they do so ignorantly.

      As to your claims that there is no extra Biblical evidence to support the gospel stories–there’s loads of it, but whenever a believer brings out archeological or documentary or geographical evidence to support and corroborate the gospel accounts, the atheists attempt to discredit it. Most of them treat evidence the way a conspiracy theorist does. If it supports their view they embrace it. If it does not they rubbish it. If they can’t rubbish it they claim it is a forgery.

      In the meantime they propose the most wild theories and fabrications and ideas for which there is not only no proof, but not a scrap of evidence.

      e.g. Eusebius wrote Luke? This is the sort of wild claim that people like you make. You admit you have no proof. There is only a vague theory invented by someone 1900 years or more after the event, but you like to suppose that the gospels are unreliable because they were written 60 years after the event? Can’t you see how ridiculous your claims are? The simplest answer is always to be preferred. Luke wrote the gospel of Luke and Acts just like the people who were closest to the event claimed.

      • The Deuce

        His “mythical 12″ comment is even further out in la-la land than the “Eusebius wrote Luke and Acts” idea. I’m not sure how these people process these sorts of conspiracy theories in their minds. I guess they just don’t think too hard about what it would actually entail for them to be true.

      • http://benwallis.blogspot.com Ben

        Fr. Longenecker,

        He wasn’t suggesting that Eusebius wrote Luke or Acts. Instead, he was suggesting that, perhaps, Eusebius assigned the names to the Gospels. He is incorrect in this suggestion, because authors refer to the Gospels by their modern names well before the time of Eusebius. However this error can be forgiven him, since he is not a Biblical scholar, and since he was only making a hypothesis in any case.

        Also, while we do tend to prefer simple answers, these answers must be supported by good evidence. But we have no good evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels, and in fact there is a fair amount of evidence AGAINST their authenticity, including but not limited to the widespread incidence of forgery in the name of Apostles in the early Christian world.

        Anyway, I agree that we should not accept Q as a fact. That’s why, in the literature, it is almost invariably referred to as the Q hypothesis. Despite this, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we really don’t know the sources for the Gospels, and so it’s nice to take a moment to remind ourselves that Q is just a hypothesis. This is not to say we have no evidence for Q. In fact, we DO have evidence, most notably in the form of internal analysis. Not only that, but the Q hypothesis motivated the prediction of a genre, sayings Gospels, which has since been borne out by the discovery of GThomas. So this constitutes external evidence in favor of Q. It’s weak external evidence, but it’s external evidence nonetheless.

        Moreover, it is abundantly obvious that there is some kind of literary dependence involved with the Synoptic Gospels. If you don’t like the Q hypothesis, fine, but we still have a mystery on our hands: What is the nature of the literary dependence? To date, no single answer to this mystery has proved definitive, or even particularly likely.

  • MarylandBill

    The sort of textual analysis I see done by Historians can be useful, but it often can not be conclusive and it can also be abused. I can’t help thinking of the efforts by some scholars to claim that every reference to Jesus in Josephus is an interpolation.

  • Paul H

    Fr. L.,

    Which one of the Amazon reviews is yours? I saw four reviews, but none of them had your name attached (at least not that I could see).

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Mine it the official Amazon review of the book. Not a reader’s review.

      • Paul H

        Ah, I see! I was looking in the wrong place. Thanks.

  • Paul H

    I am very, very skeptical of the “Q” hypothesis myself. While I am certainly no Bible scholar, I have read enough about the history of the New Testament to be convinced that, at very least, the “Q” hypothesis is a hypothesis without any real evidence.

    It really bugs me when I see this “Q” hypothesis being taught as an established fact, by what should be reliable Catholic sources, such as catechetical textbooks. (I wouldn’t mind if they mentioned it as one scholarly theory or hypothesis, but too often I have seen or heard “Q” taught as definitive fact.)

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It seems probable that there was some sort of shared source for the stories, but it may very well have been oral story telling in the rabbinic tradition.

  • Charles Sommer

    The theory of Q has always bothered me as a scholar. Most who advocate for it make a claim like this: “there was no crucifixion/resurrection narrative in Q”. Logically, I do not know how any early Christian document would not mention the crucifixion or resurrection.
    My favorite “scholarly” work on Q was the publication a few years ago of a “Critical Edition of Q.” Crit editions are wonderful, but presuppose a group of manuscripts with which to work, not a “hypothetical, reconstructed” document for which there is no evidence.
    Q is one more reason I’m glad I specialize in the Old Testament.

  • http://PortaCaeli Patricius

    Here is a link which may interest students of the gospels : http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/orchard/oeg.pdf

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One thing that militates against orthodox Christian belief of any kind is the current culture –or zeitgeist– of the academic world. Proving or confirming an accepted truth (in any area) does not get you fame, promotions, or publishing bucks. You want to “make your academic bones” you must trumpet some new avenue of attack on an established orthodoxy. Never mind if your attack is a product of imagination and fantasy .

  • Ray

    This is one of the theories in the St. Jerome Bilical Commentary. Just went back and reread it after reading your article. I’m not quite as skeptical as you, Father. Don’t believe that the aforementioned commentary would put forth atheistic ideology.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Maybe read my original post more closely. I wasn’t rubbishing all Biblical criticism or even the ‘Q’ theory completely–only complaining about radicals who become dogmatic about it or atheist who use it to rubbish the Scriptures.

  • FW Ken

    Charles Sommer -

    I can’t resist: you eschew the Q hypothesis in favor of OT source theories? JEPD? You are a brave man! ;-)

  • FW Ken

    I meant to note that the overlaps in the synoptic gospels are there because they rely on a common set of events.

  • http://www.devinetoursrome.com Charles Collins

    One problem I have with theories of “late” authorship when it comes to the New Testament is that is not how things worked at the time. This is not the era of Genesis, or even later OT works. The early Roman Empire was a literary world with a publishing industry. There is not real oral tradition in such societies. People write it down if it is important. It is obvious the Synoptics depend on each other, but that in no way means there is a need for a hidden Gospel, just that later Gospels used earlier Gospels as sources, just like authors today will quote other authors (although the citation rules are different, of course!)

  • Sid Dhartha

    I have trouble believing all the scholars who, for very well documented reasons, deny the infallibility of scripture, claim infallibility for their own hypotheses. The Westar Institute’s reconstruction of the Q sayings gospel even has two versioins, reflecting their uncertainty as to whether Matthew or Luke better preserves the source. I am even more unwilling to believe they are all atheists. Bishop Spong is certainly not. I should like to know your credentials

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I didn’t say all Bible scholars are atheists. I said atheists have used their writings to help discredit Christianity.

  • Pingback: Jesus in the Holy Gospel of St. John | Big Pulpit()

  • Jem

    Q? Hangs out with P and J :)

  • Tim

    Have any of the literary and historical critics of the Holy Bible taken a moment before they dismissed the thought that the connection source between the Gospels was the Holy Spirit? Why is this so difficult to accept?

  • Kay Priddy

    Thank you Fr. Longenecke! When I fist read about Q, I found it absolutely ridiculous. The sensus fidelium really is operative – if we listen to it.

  • Shaughn

    At the risk of sounding controversial, the noted Anglican priest, Austin Farrer, a friend of C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, rather succinctly dispatched Q in an essay from 1955 entitled “On Dispensing with Q.” It’s easily found and very legible.