The Q document or Q (from the German Quelle, "source") is a postulated lost textual source for the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke. It is a theoretical collection of Jesus' sayings, written in Greek. Although many scholars today believe that "Q" was a real document that has not withstood the test of time, no actual document, in full or part has survived to this day.
The two-source hypothesis is the most widely accepted solution to the Synoptic Problem, which concerns the literary relationships between and among the first three canonical gospels (the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke), known as the Synoptic Gospels. Similarity in word choices and event placement shows an interrelationship. The synoptic problem concerns how this interrelation came to pass and what the nature of this interrelationship is. According to the two-source hypothesis, Matthew and Luke both used the Gospel of Mark, independently of one another. This necessitates the existence of a hypothetical source in order to explain the double tradition material where there is agreement between Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark. This hypothetical source is named Q out of convenience.
Of the many gospels written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament: the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. The gospel of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are very similar to each other. These gospels often recount the same stories about Jesus, generally follow the same sequence and use similar wording.
In contrast, it has long been recognized that the Gospel of John differs significantly from the other three canonical gospels in theme, content, time duration, order of events, and style. Clement of Alexandria famously summarized the unique character of the Gospel of John by stating "John last of all, conscious that the 'bodily' facts had been set forth in those [earlier] Gospels ... composed a 'spiritual' Gospel."
"Synoptic" is a Greek word meaning "one glimpse/look", referring to that the events seem to have been seen with one pair of eyes (hence the similarities between the gospels). In light of the many commonalities between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, these three works are known as the "Synoptic Gospels".
The synoptic gospels feature an enormous amount of parallels between them. About 80% of the verses in Mark have parallels in both Matthew and Luke Since this material is common to all three gospels, it is known as the Triple Tradition. The Triple Tradition is largely narrative but contains some sayings material.
Additionally, a substantial block of material is found in both Matthew and Luke (but absent from Mark). About 25% of the verses in Matthew have parallels in Luke (but not in Mark). This material which is common to Matthew and Luke is known as the Double Tradition.
The relationships between the three synoptic gospels goes beyond mere similarity in viewpoint. The gospels often recount the stories, usually in the same exact order, sometimes even using the exact same words. Some sections are repeated nearly verbatim.
Scholars note that the similarities between the Mark, Matthew, and Luke are too great to be accounted for by mere coincidences. Since multiple eyewitnesses reporting the exact same events will basically never relate a story using exactly the same word-for-word telling, scholars and theologians have long assumed there was some literary relationship between the three synoptic gospels.
The precise nature of the relationships between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke is known as the Synoptic Problem. The recognition of the question, and attempts to resolve it, date to antiquity. For example, Augustine of Hippo, a 5th century bishop, tried to explain the relationships between the synoptic gospels by proposing that perhaps Matthew was written first, then Mark was written using Matthew as a source, and finally Luke was written using Matthew and Mark as sources. Although this specific solution has fallen out of favor with modern scholars, it represents one of the earliest and most influential proposed solutions to the synoptic problem.
One of the first steps towards the solution of the synoptic problem was to note that Mark appeared to be the earliest of the four canonical gospels.
Several lines of evidence suggest that this is so. Mark is the shortest of the gospels-- suggesting that the longer gospels took Mark as a source and added additional material to it, (as opposed to Mark taking longer gospels but deleting substantial chunks of material). Mark's use of diction and grammar is less sophisticated than that found in Matthew and Luke-- suggesting that Matthew and Luke "cleaned up" Mark's wording (as opposed to Mark intentionally "dumbing down" more sophisticated use of language). Mark regularly included Aramaic quotes (translating them into Greek), whereas Matthew and Luke do not.
For these reasons and others, most scholars accept that the Gospel of Mark was written first, and the Gospels Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source. If Markan priority is correct, the triple tradition would be explained as those parts of Mark which both Matthew and Luke chose to copy.
Markan priority, while explaining most of the similarities between the three synoptic gospels, is unable to provide a complete solution to the synoptic problem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke have much material in common. While most of that material appears to have been copied from The Gospel of Mark, some of the material common to Matthew and Luke isn't found in Mark.
The material (collectively known as the "double tradition") is often presented in both Matthew and Luke using very similar wording, and often presented in the same order. Since this material is absent from Mark, the use of Mark as source cannot explain how the same stories, using the same words, came to be found in both Matthew and Luke. Scholars therefore suggest that in addition to using Mark as a source, Matthew and Luke may have both had access to some second source, which they both independently used in the creation of their gospels-- hence the name "two-source hypothesis". This hypothetical second source is referred to as Q (from the German "Quelle" meaning "source").
Although a few scholars still question it, the two source hypothesis is currently the most widely accepted solution to the synoptic problem.
Similarly, it is possible to deduce that the Q document, in the form that Matthew and Luke had access to, was written in Greek. If Matthew and Luke were referring to a document that had been written in some other language (for example Aramaic), it is highly unlikely that two independent translations would have exactly the same wording.
The Q document must have been composed prior to the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke. Some scholars even suggest Q may have predated Mark.
The Q document, if it did exist, has since been lost, but scholars believe it can be partially reconstructed by examining elements common to Matthew and Luke (but absent from Mark). This reconstructed Q is notable in that it generally does not describe the events of the life of Jesus: Q does not mention Jesus' birth, his selection of the 12 disciples, his crucifixion, or the resurrection. Instead, it appears to be a collection of Jesus' sayings and teachings.
In modern times, the first person to hypothesize a Q-like source was an Englishman, Herbert Marsh, in 1801 in a complicated solution to the synoptic problem that his contemporaries ignored. Marsh labeled this source with the Hebrew letter beth (ב).
The next person to advance the Q hypothesis was the German Schleiermacher in 1832, who interpreted an enigmatic statement by the early Christian writer Papias of Hierapolis, circa 125: "Matthew compiled the oracles (logia) of the Lord in a Hebrew manner of speech". Rather than the traditional interpretation that Papias was referring to the writing of Matthew in Hebrew, Schleiermacher believed that Papias was actually giving witness to a sayings collection that was available to the Evangelists.
In 1838 another German, Christian Hermann Weisse, took Schleiermacher's suggestion of a sayings source and combined it with the idea of Markan priority to formulate what is now called the Two-Source Hypothesis, in which both Matthew and Luke used Mark and the sayings source. Heinrich Julius Holtzmann endorsed this approach in an influential treatment of the synoptic problem in 1863, and the Two-Source Hypothesis has maintained its dominance ever since.
At this time, Q was usually called the Logia on account of the Papias statement, and Holtzmann gave it the symbol Lambda (Λ). Toward the end of the 19th century, however, doubts began to grow on the propriety of anchoring the existence of the collection of sayings in the testimony of Papias, so a neutral symbol Q (which was devised by Johannes Weiss based on the German Quelle, meaning source) was adopted to remain neutrally independent of the collection of sayings and its connection to Papias.
In the first two decades of the 20th century, more than a dozen reconstructions of Q were made. However, these reconstructions differed so much from each other that not a single verse of Matthew was present in all of them. As a result, interest in Q subsided and it was neglected for many decades.
This state of affairs changed in the 1960s after translations of a newly discovered and analogous sayings collection, the Gospel of Thomas, became available. James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester proposed that collections of sayings such as Q and Thomas represented the earliest Christian materials at an early point in a trajectory that eventually resulted in the canonical gospels.
This burst of interest led to increasingly more sophisticated literary and redactional reconstructions of Q, notably the work of John S. Kloppenborg. Kloppenborg, by analyzing certain literary phenomena, argued that Q was composed in three stages. The earliest stage was a collection of wisdom sayings involving such issues as poverty and discipleship. Then this collection was expanded by including a layer of judgmental sayings directed against "this generation". The final stage included the Temptation of Jesus.
Although Kloppenborg cautioned against assuming that the composition history of Q is the same as the history of the Jesus tradition (i.e. that the oldest layer of Q is necessarily the oldest and pure-layer Jesus tradition), some recent seekers of the Historical Jesus, including the members of the Jesus Seminar, have done just that. Basing their reconstructions primarily on the Gospel of Thomas and the oldest layer of Q, they propose that Jesus functioned as a wisdom sage, rather than a Jewish rabbi, though not all members affirm the two-source hypothesis. Kloppenborg, it should be noted, is now a fellow of the Jesus Seminar himself.
Skeptical of Kloppenborg's tripartite division of Q, Bruce Griffin writes:
This division of Q has received extensive support from some scholars specializing in Q. But it has received serious criticism from others, and outside the circle of Q specialists it has frequently been seen as evidence that some Q specialists have lost touch with essential scholarly rigor. The idea that we can reconstruct the history of a text which does not exist, and that must itself be reconstructed from Matthew and Luke, comes across as something other than cautious scholarship. But the most serious objection to the proposed revisions of Q is that any attempt to trace the history of revisions of Q undermines the credibility of the whole Q hypothesis itself. For despite the fact that we can identify numerous sayings that Matthew and Luke have in common, we cannot prove that these sayings come from a single unified source; Q may be nothing but a convenient term for a variety of sources shared by Matthew and Luke. Therefore any evidence of revision of Q counts as evidence for disunity in Q, and hence for a variety of sources used by Matthew and Luke. Conversely, any evidence for unity in Q - which must be established in order to see Q as a single document - counts as evidence against the proposed revisions. In order to hold to a threefold revision of Q, one must pull off an intellectual tight-rope act: one must imagine both that there is enough unity to establish a single document and that there is enough disunity to establish revisions. In the absence of any independent attestation of Q, it is an illusion to believe that scholars can walk this tightrope without falling off.However, scholars supporting the hypothesis of the three-stage historical development of Q, such as Burton L. Mack, argue that the unity of Q comes not only from its being shared by Matthew and Luke, but also because, in the layers of Q as reconstructed, the later layers build upon and presuppose the earlier ones, whereas the reverse is not the case. So evidence that Q has been revised is not evidence for disunity in Q, since the hypothesised revisions depend upon asymmetric logical connections between what are posited to be the later and earlier layers.
Some of the most notable portions of the New Testament are believed to have originated in Q: