content top

FOUNDATIONS: Theology of the Gospel Writers - 1. The Gospel of Q

Posted on: March 19, 2017

Series 1 Study Guide
1: The Theology of Q

What is Q
The Q Sayings Gospel is the earliest known gospel in the Christian tradition. No independent copy of this Gospel has ever been found; instead, the Gospel is reconstructed from parallel passages found in Matthew and Luke. Since Matthew and Luke used this common source, the source must be earlier than these two gospels. The general conclusion today is that Q did exist independently as a sayings gospel but was lost as an independent gospel after it was incorporated by Matthew and Luke. It is also widely accepted that the Gospel of Luke preserves most faithfully the original document. Q is dated to the decade of the 60’s C.E.

Q is derived from the German word Quelle, which means source. It is largely a collection of sayings, which is why it is most appropriately called The Q Sayings Gospel.

Even Denying Q Admits to Q
Some scholars claim that there is no reason to postulate the existence of the Q Gospel. Luke could have known the gospels of Matthew and Mark and simply copied from them. The Q material, then, would have come to Luke from Matthew. This claim, however, does not deny the Q material but only re-defines its origin. Q now becomes the material that Matthew had, but Mark did not, and that Luke copied from Matthew. Accordingly, the Q Gospel must still be postulated.

Textual analysis suggests, however, that Luke best preserves the content of Q. This is why it is widely accepted that Q existed independently and was copied separately by Matthew and Luke.

The Layers of Q
The Q Gospel is divided into three distinct layers or stages called Q1, Q2, and Q3. Basically, Q1 is wisdom material called gnomologia (wise sayings): proverbs, aphorisms, and parables. The Q1 Gospel is almost exclusively aphorisms with some parables and proverbs mixed in. This layer is likely as close to the historical Jesus as can be achieved.

Q2 material is largely apocalyptic material; that is, it is material containing judgements, warnings, and parables about a returning (and angry) Master. Thus, while Q1 is collected sayings; Q2 is theology. It is, basically, a theology of history used to organize the sayings and to apply an apocalyptic flavour (or theme) to them.

Q3 material is generally editorial material that either expands or comments on Q2 material and that adds two more parables about a Master.

We can conclude basically that Q1 material is sayings, Q2 is theology, and Q3 is commentary. Though these are simplistic categories, they can help us to understand the basic composition of the Q Sayings Gospel.

Notes for Discussion
1. The Q saying were deliberately collected by an editor according to perceived themes, but this often resulted in creating an arbitrary relationship between sayings.
a. Two Q1 sayings placed together are:
i. “Foxes have holes and birds have their nests, but this mother’s son has no place to rest his head.” (Q 9:58)
ii. “Leave the dead to bury the dead.” (Q 9:59)
What do you think these sayings mean independently of one another. Why do you think an editor put them together? What affinity do you think the editor saw?

2. Many of the sayings are composed as satire.
a. A party where no invited person shows up can’t really be a party; so, it becomes a celebration of nobodies. (Q 14:6ff)
b. A woman who loses a coin, then finds it, and then spends way more than its value to celebrate finding it. (Q 15:8-9)

Are you surprised to find satire in the Bible? What do you think it means? What examples of satire in our modern world help us understand satire in the ancient world?

3. Some of the sayings are common proverbs likely not original to Jesus.
a. Can the blind guide the blind?
b. Seek and you shall find.

Jesus could have said these things, or something like them, but as common wisdom, such proverbs do not distinguish Jesus from any number of other folks.

Is it perfectly fine for you to accept that some things Jesus said, or could have said, were completely normal for his day? What happens to Jesus when he is allowed to be normal?

Discuss the future of religion or issues related to religion when outstanding and revered figures like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed are allowed to be normal people who did not always know the right answer or who did not always have something further to add to accepted common wisdom.

4. In the DVD talk on the theology of Q, Q2 material was identified as Deuteronomic Theology, meaning that it is apocalyptic or judgement based theology. By contrast Q1 material is wisdom based sayings. The division between apocalyptic-based religion and wisdom-based religion seems characteristic of religious expression both historically and in today’s world. Can you think of examples from today that express this difference? What do you think is the value and the danger of each type of religious expression.

wrapper background