Religion Magazine

Who is Afraid of Q?

By Sjbedard @sjbedard

You may or may not be aware that there is something called the synoptic problem. The problem is that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have certain similarities that go beyond just separate accounts of the same events. In many cases it is the same word for word. What is the reason for this?

The most popular explanation for this is the four source theory. The basic idea is that Mark was the first Gospel written (this is called Markan priority). The passages that all three synoptics have in common are because Matthew and Luke used Mark.

However, there are other passages that Matthew and Luke have in common that are not found in Mark. Scholars suggest this is a hypothetical source called Q (from the German for source). We do not have a copy of a Q text, it is simply a theory to explain the relationship between Matthew and Luke.

There are then certain passages that are unique to Matthew and others that are unique to Luke. These are called M and L. Thus you have the four sources: Mark, Q, M and L. Some Evangelicals are uncomfortable with this. They see this as a part of liberal critical scholarship and as a direct attack on the doctrine of inspiration.

I really don’t see why this needs to be. I see Q as the best explanation of the evidence and yet I still affirm the inspiration of the Bible. There is no reason that God couldn’t use sources in his inspiration. There is also no reason that eyewitnesses could not use sources in writing their Gospels. They were writing decades after the events and if there already were texts saying what they wanted to say, it was reasonable to incorporate them into their work. Luke says at the beginning of his Gospel that he did research and looked at what others said before him.

I am not saying that you must believe in Q, but rejecting Q should not be a sign of orthodoxy. If you are interested in learning more about this, I suggest you read Robert Stein’s Studying the Synoptic Gospels.

22581: Studying the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition
Studying the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition

By Robert H. Stein / Baker

If you have questions about the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Studying the Synoptic Gospels is must reading. Previously published as The Synoptic Problem and now updated to reflect current scholarship, Robert Stein’s introductory text explores the literary interrelationships between the three gospels, as well as their preliterary history and inscripturation. His comprehensive analysis—especially of the Two Source Hypothesis—will enlighten both scholars and laypeople. 336 pages, softcover, Baker.

  • Four Source Hypothesis
  • Gospels
  • Luke
  • Mark
  • Matthew
  • Q
  • Robert Stein
  • Source Criticism
  • Sources
  • Studying the Synoptic Gospels
  • Synoptic Gospels

Post navigation

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog