When we examine the gospels of Matthew and Luke the parallels are abundantly clear. That is due to the fact that Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark for most of their gospels. Matthew’s gospel contains 90% of Mark’s work. Luke’s gospel contains 50% of Mark’s work. This would likely mean that Mark was the commonality of this work.

But what about the other 10% of Matthew’s gospel and the other fifty percent of Luke’s gospel that didn’t derive its information from the Marcan Source (Mark’s gospel)? Scholars have postulated that there is a 2nd source that Matthew and Luke used to get the information to create their gospels. The source is a hypothetical document called “Q.” “Q” is the abbreviated form of the German word “Quelle” and means “source.”

The Q community was interested in what they felt would be the coming of the Messiah in power and glory to set things as they should be. As we know from Paul's letters, early Christians thought that God communicated to them through prophecy. This was, in turn, evidence that they were God's elect who would emerge triumphant when Jesus came back in the last days.

The four main gospels seem to think less about Jesus coming again, and more about what they call the “Kingdom of God". There is a strong argument for assuming that by "Kingdom" they meant letting God’s sovereign rule reign in how they thought about life and the context of the time period when they lived. As we know from Paul's later letters, by around the year 65, Christians had begun to wonder if Jesus would return as some had thought. This makes the timeframe for Q of more than 65 yrs. less likely. Some think that the story of the fight with the devil in Q is talking about a situation in 39 when there was a mass demonstration against the putting up of a statue of the Emperor Caligula in Jerusalem [1]. If that’s what it is, the Q material likely came into being after that date.

The high percentage of verbal similarities between Luke and Matthew, and some specific word formations, make many people think that Q was a written source now long-lost, rather than stories verbally passed. They believe it not likely that 2 oral traditions, one utilized by Matthew and one used by Luke, could have sustained such tight verbal similarity.

One example is:

So also Mark 8.34-35 is used in Matthew 16.24-25 and Luke 9.23-24. A Q version also occurs in Matthew 10.38-39 and Luke 14.27 & 17.33.

Overall, many suggest that Luke's interpretation of Q preserves the original better than Matthew's. The conclusion that Q was as a now-lost written source of some sayings of Jesus has withstood more than a a hundred years of scrutiny with amazing resiliance.

If one accepts that Q is a now-lost written record of "what Jesus really said", then 'Q' should be thought of as a long-missing record of the things that Jesus actually said.

·The Q collection can be validly separated from the gospel text.

Several other assumptions can be reasonably drawn from the evidence [4]:

·The stories in Q indicates that it had high status in the early Jewish-Christian communities centered around Northern Galilee. The people looked to it for guidance in life-issues.

·Q was not written as one piece. Rather, it was a collection which was added to from time to time. Some changes could have been made by later, non-Galilean sources - though the evidence for this is not that strong.

·Those who are unfamiliar with the scholarly work of the previous twenty years may react to Q with some unhappiness. This makes sense. We have, represented by the gospels, not a magically-created hand-me-down from God by way of a mysterious process of revelation, but a truly human interpretation of events (rather than a record) compiled in a regular fashion for those times.

Our knowledge today about Jesus is therefore subject to all the strengths and limitations of ordinary human processes by which information is shared from person to person.


[1] The Historical Jesus,  G Theissen & A Merz, SCM Press, 1998

[2] Midrash and Lection in Matthew, SPCK, 1974.

[3] The New Testament, N Perrin & D C Duling, Harcourt, 1974

[4] After Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus, J L Reed, Trinity Press, 2002

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Author's Bio: 

Amy is the President of the ULC Seminary and author of multiple books and courses on ceremonies and various spiritual belief systems.