The Q Document

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I am interested in learning more about The Q Document. Can someone please point me in the right direction so that I can do some reading on this topic?

Thank you,

Jerry Lambert

Dear Mr. Lambert,

Peace in Christ! Q refers to an early written source about the life of Jesus that, it is alleged, Matthew and Luke drew from when writing their Gospels. Q comes from the German word quelle, which means “source.” The theory of the existence of Q arose as a possible explanation of the similarities found in Matthew and Luke that are not shared in Mark.

The existence of Q was first posited in 1838 by a scholar named C.H. Wiesse. Other historians and Bible scholars, mostly Protestant, lent credence to Q. In the twentieth century, a number of Catholic scholars also subscribed to the theory, though they pointed out that the existence of Q did not threaten the fact of the Gospels' historical validity or divine inspiration.

The above information was taken from Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic History, by Matthew Bunson, published in 1995. The prevailing assumption in biblical scholarship in the early nineteenth century was that Mark was the first Gospel writer, from whom Matthew and Luke copied material. What happens, though, when stories are shared by Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark? Among other possible explanations, one might also assume that there was another written source at the time other than Mark that Matthew and Luke shared — hence, Q.

More recently, the existence of Q has come under doubt, in part, because no manuscript has ever been discovered or quoted in any other text. More importantly, recent scholarship confirms what the Pontifical Biblical Commission said as far back as 1911 that Matthew's Gospel was written first and prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. See for example Eyewitness to Jesus: Amazing New Manuscript Evidence About the Origin of the Gospels, by Carsten Peter Theide and Matthew D'Ancona. If Matthew wrote first, then Luke, and Mark used them as his source, the reason to theorize about Q disappears.

I am not aware of any books that are specifically devoted to the study of the Q theory. Most New Testament commentaries refer to it and discuss it to some degree (for example, Donald Guthrie's New Testament Introduction (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990). Most Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias have entries on “Q” that summarize the issue and provide brief bibliographies for further reading. See, for example, the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Curtis Mitch, biblical scholar and contributor to Emmaus Road publications Catholic for A Reason I and II, recommends the discussion on Q by William Farmer in The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem. Farmer is a strong advocate of the position that Matthew wrote first, then Luke, and then Mark.

United in the Faith,

David E. Utsler

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

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