In Defense of Q

Someone recently pointed me to a web side called “The Case Against Q”. This site does an excellent job of summarizing the problems with the Q hypothesis, but ultimately I believe rejecting Q creates far more problems than it solves. First of all, let’s review the relationship of the synoptic gospels  to each other. I found the following chart from Wiki which summarized it nicely.

What we see is that Matthew and Luke share a large chunk of material (consisting of 23% of Luke and 25% of Matthew) in common. This material doesn’t simply cover the same topical ground. The similarity is often word-per-word in the Greek. How are we to explain this identical material? There are basically three possibilities. The difficulty will be in deciding which is more likely.

Possibility #1 – They simply came up with the same Greek words.
Problems: This is astronomically unlikely. Even if we assume God is inspiring the writing, it’s very clear that God allows individual styles in the writing of scripture. This is copying pure and simple.

Possibility #2 – Either Matthew copied Luke or (more probably) Luke copied Matthew. This is the “two-gospel” hypothesis, which seems to be the solution of the “Case Against Q” website.
Problems: Many. Summarizing:
1.    Matthew and Luke have drastically different version of Jesus birth, genealogy, and resurrection events. These are not only different, but appear contradictory. Perhaps these have legitimate reconciliations, perhaps they don’t. But the issue is, neither Matthew or Luke make any effort to harmonize these apparent discrepancies. This is very hard to explain of Luke was using Matthew as a source.
2.    There are a number of cases in the Triple Tradition where Matthew adds some important detail to Mark’s account and Luke doesn’t copy his additions.
3.    There are places where Matthew has apparently “blended” another source (Q?) with Mark. Luke has the other source (Q?) material, but without the blends. This suggests he’s adding the material on his own, without Matthew’s guidance.
4.    Matthew has a number (10 or 11) peculiar phrases he likes to use “son of David”, “this was to fulfill…” Luke and Mark never use them. Can Luke be using Matthew and manage to NEVER use his trademark phrases?
5.    Matthew has added some things to the double tradition (Q?) that Luke doesn’t copy (for example, Matthew adding “in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. If Matthew is the source, why doesn’t Luke copy these additions?
6.    Luke and Matthew put pieces of the double tradition (Q?) in entirely different contexts. Part of Matthew’s sermon on the mount takes place on the plain, etc. It looks very much like they are adding fragments of Jesus tradition with minimal guidance on where to put them.
7.    Luke and Matthew have a number of doublets. These are cases where they report the same event or saying twice. Once copying Mark, and once from another apparent source. This suggests that each of them is using two different sources, Mark and “Q”.
8.    The double tradition material in Matthew and Luke seems to have a certain philosophy and style (such as a preference for the Deuteronomist sources) that Matthew and Luke by themselves don’t share.

Possibility #3  – They are both copying from some common source. This is the “Q” hypothesis.
Problems: The ones listed on “Case Against Q” website.
1.    “Q” is a hypothetical document without any real examples or outside citations.
2.    There is some sequence in “Q”
3.    In the triple tradition, there are some agreements, major and minor, against Mark.
4.    In the double tradition, Luke show a fatigue toward Matthew’s version.

For those following along with the website, I believe the author is stretching things a bit to make it come out to 10 reasons.  I’ve conflated reasons 1 and 2 into my reason 1. Original reason 4 isn’t really a reason, but an introduction to reasons 5, 6 and 7, which I’ve conflated into my reason 3. Reason 9 is ad hominem and reason 10 is irrelevant.

It seems to me that 1 is a reasonable argument. The case for Q would be much stronger if there were an actual example or patristic citation. There are, however, a few hints. The page dismisses the Pappius fragments with a “no true Scotsman” fallacy (no REASONABLE scholar contends..). Since some scholars DO contend that Pappius referred to something similar to “Q”, I’m very much interested in why this is unreasonable.  Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas itself lends credence to the existence of Q – being itself a “sayings” gospel of very early date.

I don’t see any merit in argument #2. No rule is broken if Q turns out to have SOME narrative sequence to it. It would simply be a fragmentary sequence.

Argument #3 is also a good one. However, most of this is simply explained. Mark is written in very poor and primitive Greek. The writers of Matthew and particularly Luke are much more educated. It’s not unreasonable that two learned authors correcting the bad writing of another would make many of the same corrections. Some of the other agreements also turn out to be later scribal redactions. Matthew and Luke didn’t agree until later scribes MADE them agree, and the agreement is missing from the earliest documents. Furthermore, there are places where the triple tradition may overlap with the “Q” material. In this case, Matthew and Luke may BOTH follow the earlier Q documents in preference to Mark.

Argument #4 (fatigue) seems convoluted to me. If Luke is trying to edit AWAY from Matthew, what is his source for those changes? It seems just as  likely that Luke is including additional material, but fatigues toward Q instead of toward Matthew.

So, we end up having to choose which set of problems is the least bothersome. One of these three answers (or some variation of it) is the explanation for the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. To me, the list of problems in the Two-Gospel hypothesis is really overwhelming, and require only common sense to recognize. If Luke had a copy of Matthew in front of him, he sure made some bizarre choices about things he decided NOT to explain.

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