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Key Quotations

This is a gallery of quotations from famous Q sceptics. Included also is a poem by E. L. Mascall.

Austin Farrer, 'On Dispensing with Q' (in D. E. Nineham, ed., Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), pp. 55-88 (p. 56):

'I take the situation to be this. Since Dr Streeter wrote, our conception of the way in which the Gospels were composed has gradually altered; so gradually, that we have not observed the extent of the alteration. Nevertheless the change that has taken place removes the ground on which the Q hypothesis stood. For the hypothesis wholly depends on the incredibility of St Luke's having read St Matthew's book. That incredibility in turn depends on the supposition that St Luke was essentially an adapter and compiler. We do not now, or ought not now, so to regard him. And being once rid of such a supposition, we can conceive well enough how St Luke could have both read St Matthew's book as it stands, and written the gospel he has left us. Then at one stroke the question is erased to which the Q hypothesis supplied an answer. For the hypothesis answered the question, 'From what does the common non-Marcan material of Matthew and Luke derive, since neither had read the other.'

E. L. Mascall, Pi in the High (London: The Faith Press; New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1959), p. 48:

James Hardy Ropes, The Synoptic Gospels (First Published 1934; Second Impression with New Preface, London: Oxford University Press, 1960). In this little book of lectures, Ropes hints strongly at what was later to be set out in more detail by Farrer, Goulder and others, maintaining the priority of Mark but dispensing with Q:

'It is commonly held that Matthew drew much of his matter from an earlier compilation of Jesus' sayings used also by Luke and nowadays sometimes dubbed "Q". But of such a book no ancient writer seems ever to have heard, and the grounds on which its existence is inferred by modern scholars are far less secure than is commonly represented or supposed.' (p. 37)

'The hypothesis is usually accepted that there was in existence at the close of the first century a book containing an extensive record of Jesus' sayings, from which both Matthew and Luke drew, but which, having been largely reproduced in their gospels, was thereafter lost. This supposed book was often termed the "Logia" by scholars of the last century. In the present generation it is more commonly known by the symbol "Q". Matthew, as can be observed by anyone, has combined this material of Jesus' sayings into his large unified discourses and blocks of connected paragraphs. Luke has it distributed in smaller portions, mainly in two long sections of his gospel. Now, in view of these plain facts, it is a necessary conclusion that, if Luke and Matthew wrote their gospels independently, such a common source, "Q", must have once existed. However, in the discussion of this matter -- which has of late reached enormous proportions and attained to bewildering complexity -- the fundamental assumption that Luke and Matthew were independent of each other has been but lightly treated, and often the critical significance of this question for the problem does not seem to have been present to the critics' minds. There is, however, an alternative, namely that Luke drew these sayings from Matthew, and in the present state of the investigation it ought not to be excluded from consideration. That this alternative is still open renders unsatisfactory a great deal of current discussion of these gospels and their sources, and makes even more futile the various inconclusive attempts to determine the limits, contents, purpose, and ideas of "Q", the hypothetical "second source" of Matthew and Luke. The third possibility, that Matthew is dependent on Luke for these sayings, may, for a variety of reasons, be dismissed, although the idea is sometimes advanced. In any case, it ought to be repeated that "Q", if it ever existed, is a pure inference, a strictly hypothetical document. No ancient writer known to us appears to have so much as heard of it, to say nothing of knowing it by personal inspection.' (pp. 66-68).

'With regard to the problem of their literary relationship and dependent connections, I have already sufficiently indicated my views. That Mark, in substantially its present form, was drawn on by Matthew for the greater part of their narrative of events and incidents, can be regarded as an achieved result of Synoptic criticism, and can be used without scruple as the basis of modern study. But it is surprising, and a little mortifying to scholarship, to have to admit that this fundamental conclusion is the only assured result of the vast amount of incessant labor which has been expended on the so-called Synoptic Problem in the whole of the past hundred years and more. As to the other main question for the examination of which the material is directly open to students, that presented by the great mass of sayings common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark, agreement among scholars is less than it was forty years ago. The widespread idea of a common source, now lost, for these two gospels -- the theory of the "Logia" or "Q" -- has tended to be modified, refined, and complicated to such a degree as, for that reason if for no other, to arouse doubts of its validity. There is a simpler, competing possibility, namely that Luke drew these sayings from our Gospel of Matthew, which has never been shown to be impossible. If this could be made a probability, the hypothesis of "Q" would lose at least its main ground of support.' (pp. 93-4).

Morton Scott Enslin, Christian Beginnings (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1938; reprinted, The Literature of the Christian Movement: Part III of Christian Beginnings [Harper Torchbooks; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956]), pp. 431-434:

'In addition to the material which occurs in all three Synoptists (or in Mark and either Matthew or Luke) there are numerous passages where Matthew and Luke agree but where Mark is wanting. And not infrequently in these passages, styled conveniently the "double tradition," the verbal agreements are very striking. Thus, to take but one example , the scalding word of John the Baptist, save for three trifling variations, is reported in identical words by Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9. How are these agreements to be explained? The explanation in favour with the great majority of scholars today is a second source from which both Matthew and Luke independently drew, and which is ordinarily styled Q. Many attempts have been made to reconstruct this hypothetical source by gathering all the non-Markan passages which occur in both Matthew and Luke. Since all save two of these passages are in the form of discourse, it has become the habit to speak of Q as "the discourse source," and then to find an external guarantee for it in the oft-cited word of Papias: "Matthew collected the logia (oracles) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could." Thus the terms "the logia," or "the Matthaean logia," or "the logia referred to by Papias," or Q were treated as parallel titles for the same source, and quite unwarranted conclusions were drawn. This was very unfortunate. As stated in Chapter 40, there is a very high probability that Papias is not referring by these words to anything save our canonical Matthew. To press "logia" to refer to a catena of Jesus' sayings is utterly unwarranted, for the Greek word can equally well refer to narrative stories or to a connected account embracing both narrative and discourse. For scholars to continue to use the term logia in reference to the purely hypothetical Q is in every way deplorable and cannot fail to lead to confusion and misstatement. That Matthew and Luke independently used a second source and from it drew material which was in the main - but not exclusively - linked to sayings of Jesus is conceivable, but it should be kept clearly in mind that this is simply a deduction drawn from the nature of Matthew and Luke. There is absolutely no reference to this hypothetical source in Papias or any other writer anterior to the nineteenth century. In the language of Harnack, one of the many scholars to try his hand at reconstructing its contents, "it found its grave in Matthew and Luke." We know that Matthew and Luke used Mark because we have Mark; the situation is utterly different in the case of Q, and all attempts to gauge its exact content - whether it was simply a catena of sayings, or whether the presence of the two narratives (the Temptation story and the Healing of the Servant of the Centurion in Capernaum) plus some material regarding John the Baptist suggest that it was in some sense a gospel or at least was provided with a modicum of narrative to hold the sayings together - and to debate with regard to the comparative fidelity of Matthew and Luke in the use of it appear to me precarious if not actually futile.

The very existence of this hypothetical source depends solely on the assumption of the independence of Matthew and Luke. If either used the other, there is no need to postulate a Q to explain the so-called "double tradition." The great majority of scholars consider the two junior Synoptists independent, and support the contention by various arguments. To me the evidence adduced is far from convincing. It may be frankly conceded that there are very real differences. The birth stories are quite irreconcilable; most of the parables found in the one are absent from the other. There are many contradictions and omissions. If Matthew and Luke be considered editors whose function was to preserve for posterity all the material available to them, these arguments would be of weight; but if, as has been argued in the preceding chapters, they were authors who approached their task with definite purposes and objects, much of the weight of this often repeated argument vanishes. To us the content of each of the gospels has become so precious that we naturally find it hard to conceive that an author could have omitted it had he known it. But the use of Mark by both Matthew and Luke reveals that it was by no means sacrosanct to them. Although Luke had Mark's story of the Passion before him, he was none the less quite ready to rewrite it son drastically that many scholars find it necessary to assume a different source for his version. Accordingly, it appears to me that a frank recognition of the fact that both of these writers were authors in the truest sense of the word - but authors who lived in the first century, not the twentieth - deprives the argument that each must have worked independent of the other, because of their omissions and substitutions, of most of its force, and enables us to see the matter of their so-called agreements in a different light. In the Markan story of the Cure of the Leper there are several minor agreements between Matthew and Luke as against Mark. All but two of them - the addition of "lord" and "behold," as reference to a concordance will reveal, is characteristic of both of these authors, not of their sources. Hence it is quite unwarranted to use such material as evidence that Matthew and Luke were employing an earlier version of Mark which had these touches, for the significant point is that the touches are not primitive. A few other examples may be mentioned. To the word of reproof uttered by Jesus, "O faithless generation" (Mark 9:19), both Matthew and Luke add "and perverse," and to the command of Jesus, "bring him to me," add "hither." Similarly in the story of Judas' defection they agree in a slight variation, "he sought opportunity . . .," instead of Mark's "he sought how he might conveniently . . ." (Mark 14:11). In the story of the mockery and insults suffered by Jesus they agree in adding "Who is he that struck thee?" to Mark's simple "Prophesy" (Mark 14:65). Or again, both agree that the appearance of the angel(s) was "lightning-like," although this agreement is obscured in the English translation. In and of themselves these points are of trifling importance. But to the student they cannot be overlooked, for they evidence some sort of contact between Matthew and Luke, either at the time of composition or at least prior to our earliest manuscripts . . .'

'But I find myself more and more skeptical not about the age of Q but of its very existence, and am inclined to feel that it is an unnecessary and unwarranted assumption serving to account for material common to Matthew and Luke which can be more satisfactorily explained on the hypothesis that one of them used the other. And it appears to me highly probable that Luke was the one who did the borrowing. To be sure, the reference in his preface to the many who had "taken in hand to draw up a narrative" does not demand that our Matthew was one of them. On the other hand, it is not unlikely. But there are distinct touches which appear to me to suggest that Luke's is the later production. It is easy to see how the despairing cry of Jesus on the cross, which Matthew preserves from Mark, should have been supplanted or at least supplemented by the word, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46), but the cancellation of this word of quiet dignity would be surprising. The legendary expansion of the story of the two dying thieves or the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple might not have appealed to Matthew, but I find it impossible to believe that had he read Luke he could have failed to have been impressed by the Lucan interpretation of Jesus as the "suffering servant." With his eagerness to present prophetic indication of the coming Messiah, that would have been a pearl of price. Matthew's silence upon this point appears to me highly important and to incline the balance distinctly in favour of his priority.'

John Drury, Luke (The J. B. Phillips' Commentaries, London & Glasgow: Collins, 1973)

". . . And then Luke. Mark had given him a story and Matthew a compendium of teaching. He used both these sources, often freely and adventurously. As a third ingredient he added substantial sections which are not in Matthew or Mark but have a homogeneity of their own, suggesting that they are mainly his words. His aim in all this is something new: to present Christianity to the wider world by means of telling its story as clearly and attractively as possible in the hope of winning (possibly) converts and (certainly) respect for the new religion.

With Luke the premium is on the telling of the tale -- but not as Mark told it. The mind-blowing mystery and tremendous revelation which impresses and disorientates readers of the earlier gospel must be colled down and passed through everyday conductors to make them acceptable and appetizing to a prosperous (cf. Luke's many well-to-do characters) and peaceful world. Luke's version of Mark's story thus has a leisurely unfolding and methodical attention to temporal sequence which are lacking in the original. It is much more like history, much more realistic, much easier to read. Mark's terrifying Christ becomes sympathetic and behaves more like a good man and less like a tiger. The Matthean teaching material needs similar attention. It is dragged out of its ecclesiastically Christian setting into the market-place, there to commend itself as an inspired common sense or "wisdom". Anything that does not survive the move simply disappears. These two dominant tendencies which govern Luke's use of the work of his predecessors, the love of both the strong story-line moving clearly through time and of salty and realistic teaching, come right into the open in the sections which are his alone. No Christian stories are as well done or successful as his first chatpers (Christmas as we know it is virtually a Lucan affair) or the walk to Emmaus in the last chapter. The care for the least and the lost (vestigially present in Mark, a distinct feature of church life in Matthew) emerges in Luke as he whole gospel, the specifically Christian thing." (pp. 12-13).

E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM, 1989)

"Historically most scholars have been conscious that 'Q' is a scholarly convention which explains the Matthew-Luke double tradition, and they have deliberately remained vague about whether or not it was one document, a loose assemblage of passages, or simply a convenient name for oral or 'floating' traditions. For many decades the effort to reconstruct Q, like the effort to reconstruct Proto-Mark, was abandoned. Now a few scholars are again attempting to define Q as a document: it really existed, it directly reflects the theology of a community, and one can even make a concordance of it. This work is mostly of curiosity value, since it shows how far a hypothesis can be pushed despite its lack of fundamental support. Some of the work, however has independent value. We may mention ch. 7 of John Kloppenborg's The Formation of Q, on ancient sayings collections. There are other good selections of the work, especially the destruction of the notion that ancient materials possessed innate 'trajectories' that pushed them on a pre-determined course." (p. 116)

". . . Mark could have done what the Griesbach proposal has him do. The question is, why would he? The strongest arguments against the Griesbach hypothesis are general, not technical. Why would anyone write a shorter version of Matthew and Luke, carefully combining them, and leaving out so much such as the Lord's prayer and the beatitudes while gaining nothing except perhaps room for such trivial additions as the duplicate phrases and minor details ('carried by four' and the like)? Further, if someone had undertaken the task, why would the church have preserved the gospel at all? . . . Why would Mark bother? Matthew is not all that long. While we agree that we cannot fully recover an ancient author's intention, and thus we cannot say that Griesbach's Mark is impossible, still it must be granted that, to the modern mind, there is a very strong objection to putting Mark third." (p. 92).

"The two-source hypothesis is the best solution to the arrangement of Luke, and the Griesbach the best explanation of why Mark is the middle term. But, it seems to us, they both break down." (p. 112)

"We think that Matthew used Mark and undefined other sources, while creating some of the sayings material. Luke used Mark and Matthew, as well as other sources, and the author also created sayings material" (p. 117).

"Goulder has not persuaded us that one can give up sources for the sayings material. With this rather substantial modification, however, we accept Goulder's theory: Matthew used Mark and Luke used them both" (p. 117).

I am grateful to Prof. Jeff Peterson for the quotations from E. P. Sanders & M. Davies and from M. E. Enslin. If you have any suggestions for good quotations, let me know at

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This file was last updated on 4 March 2002
© 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 Mark Goodacre